Commentary

Editor’s Notebook: A natural balance

August 3, 2022 5:49 am
A small retaining wall made of rough-cut concrete blocks

The retaining wall is a wall once more. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

I repaired a small retaining wall on Saturday. 

The decorative concrete blocks stacked in rows in front of the workshop were undermined by the spring melt, and the right side had been toppling in slow motion ever since. A more willing landscaper would have addressed the problem as soon as the ground thawed, but I wasn’t all that troubled by the partial collapse or its inherent metaphors. I was waiting, I told myself, for the right moment to tackle the project.

That moment arrived on Friday night, when my wife said, “We should probably fix that wall.” There was no confusion about who she meant when she said “we,” and so I added it to the mental short list for Saturday morning: clear the thousands of pine needles off the breezeway roof, mow the lawn, unload the recycling bins at the transfer station, fix that wall.

Also, she said, we should probably do something about The Vine.

There was no confusion there, either. The Vine has been taking over the northwest side of the barn for years now, and has begun to turn the corner to the side that faces the road. It’s even slithering its way through the gaps and into the barn’s interior, which these days primarily serves as a used-book repository and chipmunk convention center. I don’t hate how The Vine looks outside right now, but she has a point about the long-term consequences of inaction. It’s one thing to coexist with nature but full surrender isn’t an option – not to The Vine, the Japanese knotweed, a collapsed wall, or the chipmunks. (Do you hear that, chipmunks? No surrender!)

Because The Vine is a more intimidating problem than the little retaining wall, I decided to start with a half measure. I climbed the ladder, and with gloved hands ripped off the part of The Vine that had gone too far around the bend. That is, I kind of ripped it. The Vine is attached to the wood siding with some sort of natural Gorilla Glue, so “removal” quickly took on the look of a bad haircut: a few clusters of roots and leaves with scattered bald spots. Still, I considered myself the victor of the first skirmish in what promises to be a protracted war.

And then, on Sunday morning, I woke to an epiphany about the nature of The Vine. Well, it wasn’t so much an epiphany as a feeling – an itchy, bumpy feeling on my forearms. 

Ever since the infamous Hasty Weeding Incident of 2018, I’ve become skilled at avoiding the patches of poison ivy down by the river and near the barn. I keep my head down and watch where I step when I mow, weed-whack, or wander. Until Sunday morning’s revelation, I didn’t realize I should be looking up, too.

I also had a second, less rashy epiphany: The way a person landscapes can say a lot about who they are. 

For me, creeping chaos on the periphery may not be ideal but it’s endurable – especially when the alternative is a lot of weekends spent joylessly keeping nature at bay. It would be a different story if I viewed our property the way a painter views a canvas, as plenty of people with nice yards do. The difference between a laborer and an artist is largely a matter of how one perceives the work to be done – one drudges and the other dances.

I accept that I’m no dancing landscaper and probably never will be. And to me that’s the natural balance: You make peace with what you can – a contented surrender – but sometimes you have to hold the line. 

Which reminds me, did I ever tell you about the time I repaired a small retaining wall?

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Dana Wormald
Dana Wormald

Dana Wormald, a lifelong resident of New Hampshire, has been a newspaper editor for more than 25 years. He began his career on the Concord Monitor’s news desk in 1995 and later spent more than a decade at the New Hampshire Union Leader. In 2014, he returned to the Monitor to serve as opinion editor, a position he held until being named editor of the Bulletin.

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