After three weeks away and an 18-hour drive home, the kids and I pulled into the driveway. I unlocked the doors and opened the back hatch, handing bundles to the boys as they made their way inside. There, in the waning light, I saw several dandelion plants nearly as tall as the 11 year old dragging a suitcase up the front steps. Long green blades of grass – not grass I had planted – poked up between the paving stones and around the azaleas, visibly proud of how quickly and well it had grown. And even the enthusiastic grass had nothing on the tomatoes: they had grown exuberantly, abundantly, outrageously, and then, exhausted, had laid their heavy branches down on the sidewalk, creating a thick verdant obstacle course for passersby. The plants were out of control.

I paused, arms laden with the miscellaneous car detritus that appears at the end of a long road trip, and shook my head slowly – as if I could somehow reconcile this sight with Andre’s text from last night: “I did some trimming of the garden so you wouldn’t be totally horrified, but you will still want to get out there to rip stuff up.”

I was, in fact, totally horrified.

As I stood, rooted to the spot, our neighbor Mike came over to welcome us home. I sputtered something about giant dandelions and he laughed, “Yeah, Andre didn’t get a lot of gardening done while he was home*.” Mike had watered the plants while we were away, and he’d kept at it even once Andre came home because Andre had to work. Now, together, we stared at the wild tangle that occupied the space previously known as the front yard.

“Girl,” said Mike, “get in there and get some sleep. We can deal with this tomorrow. I’ll help with the tomatoes.”

Saturday arrived, hot and humid. I rummaged through the shed and found stakes, twine, a small garden fork and a large yard waste bag. The morning was for pulling things. Out came the dandelions (really sow thistle), carefully culled so that their fluff didn’t spread seeds everywhere. Up came the grass – and more grass and more grass and many little bulbs. What was this stuff? I wiped the sweat from my forehead and checked my phone: nutgrass? nutsedge? Who cares? I ripped it out ruthlessly. 

I paused for a long walk and a short lunch. The afternoon heat was more than I could handle, even with water, but after dinner Mike showed up, as promised. We staked one tomato plant after another, slowly clearing the sidewalk as we discovered dozens of green orbs hidden in the leaves. For a while he tied and I weeded. Then he weeded a little, too. Then I weeded some more. By the time the sun was setting, we had overfilled the yard waste bag and were both happily dripping with sweat. I wiped a dirty hand across my face, stood up and stretched, high and long. 

“It looks good,” I declared. 
“That it does,” he agreed.
“I’ve got more to do tomorrow.”
“Yes, you do. It’s a good job done for today, though.”

We surveyed the yard – tomatoes upright, paving stones visible, azaleas able to breathe – and said goodnight. I went inside and washed off the dirt, then fell asleep knowing that all that uprooting really meant coming home.

*To be clear, the house was immaculate and he’d left cold beer in the fridge and lovely treats for us to discover, so I’m not complaining. Not everyone is a gardener.

9 thoughts on “Uprooting

  1. Wow, that reminds me of the continental summers. It’s been a long time since I’ve been where summer plants could overtake a yard in three weeks! (That doesn’t happen in the desert.) Your writing about it was funny and effective. So many funny lines, words and images you chose to describe their out-of-control growth.

    “visibly proud” “enthusiastic grass” “they had grown exuberantly, abundantly, outrageously” and then the description of the obstacle course is great. You convince the reader they are growing out of control with all these sweet details. Horrified, indeed!


  2. I could imagine how you felt coming home to your overgrown yard and the feeling of wanting to tackle it as soon as possible. I could picture your hand wiping away the sweat and the satisfaction of getting the job done. No place like home!


  3. I like to think how lucky I am when I arrive home to living plants in the planter. You’re gonna have some tasty salsa made from those tomato plants, The weeds and dandelions are just collateral damage for the bounty of juicy tomatoes. Does Paris feel like a distant memory after all that driving and gardening?


  4. There was a time when I did not notice how things at home and changed since I’ve been gone.

    Somehow I had an expectation that things would be how I left them and where I left them.

    And the people would’ve remained in stasis, paused, prepping for my return.

    More recently I have also started to think that in some cases people needed me to leave in order to grow in order to change, in order to fully become.

    My expectations boxed them up, kept them from just being.

    Now I get it, I too will be returning to an overgrown garden, likely herds of dandelions, plants and critters of all sorts will be flourishing in places I’d rather them not.

    I will try and pause and prioritize my green thumb drive to hack and slash and mitigate.

    Maybe try and appreciate the ‘weeds’ a bit.

    Maybe consider (for a very brief moment) how others will try and trim my growth, ignore my efforts, reorganize my experiences now that I am back in their circles.

    Then I will start weeding.


  5. Being a traveler and returning home to ‘the wild yard,’ I can appreciate your story. My favorite image is the blades of grass standing proud at how tall they grew…and plucking those puffy dandelions ever so carefully so as not to spread their seeds. Weren’t you tempted, just a tiny little bit, to ‘blow the puffs’ like we all did as kids? I’m sure you are finding comfort in taking back control of your garden. 🙂


  6. At least the interior was welcoming you back home! That’s a relief!

    We recently got home from a week-and-a-half away and there were so many weeds that sprouted in that time. It was incredible!


  7. This sounds like a fascinating unintended experiment (that hardly ever happens) to see how the nature grows when you don’t interfere. I am glad you had help with sorting it back to order.


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