(It has been 20 years since I wrote this, and my back STILL hurts)
An orchestra of birds outside my window this morning reminds me that yet another New England winter has come to an end. Time to unglue the venetian blinds and open up a window or two.
I love the springtime; birds chattering away as they build new nests in the birdhouse out back, people smiling as they trudge past in vain efforts to rid themselves of the extra 10 pounds of jiggle accumulated over the past few months and the almost friendly nudges from the Seal Pointers in the bakery aisle.
At my house there are two sure signs of spring.
The first is the return of the worlds fattest raccoon to my garbage cans by the back stoop. I am not certain where the old fellow holes up for the winter; perhaps in one of the abandoned summer houses or tucked away in the hold of a Greyhound heading for Fort Myers. In any event shortly after the last scrap of snow disappears from under the forsythia he will appear like magic, skulking about the hedge and waiting for me to forget to clamp the garbage can lids tightly.
This year was no exception. Tuesday morning in my usual habit I forgot to lug the garbage cans to the curb. Well, actually I didn’t forget, but that comes a bit further down the page here. As I stumbled into the kitchen about the crack of noon I could see Ms. M.jr. standing in the farmers porch, hands on hips, staring out of the backdoor window.
“There’s garbage all over the backyard!”
I pried one eye open with two fingers and peered out. Ugh, ugh and double ugh… From one end of the backyard to the other was a litter of ripped Star Market bags and gawd only knows what else. There sitting in the middle of the pile was my friend the raccoon, smiling broadly as he stared back at me. “I’ll get to it right away!” I muttered and shambled off to the computer room with coffee cup in hand.
As the coffee began to filter through to my brain I realized there was a note taped to the middle of my monitor. For several minutes I avoided it, peeking around the edge and scrolling like mad with my Intellimouse to read my emails. Finally I gave up and read the note. On a 5×7 index card, Ms.M.jr. had neatly lettered ‘There is garbage all over the backyard!’. She knows me too well I think.
Grumbling to myself (very quietly these days) I grabbed my coffee and hoisted myself up to the bedroom to don my gardening clothes.
As I appeared on the back stoop to begin collecting all these half eaten treasures I could just detect the fat striped butt scooting under the edge of the deck. Shaking my fist in his general direction I began to scoop all manner of rotted goodies into bags.
One of the odd things about my friend the raccoon is that he seems to have a great love for coffee grounds. Perhaps it is the precooked nature of the grounds, or maybe, like me he needs a little jolt to get rolling first thing in the morning. Visions of the raccoon with coffee in one hand and Winston Light 100 in the other perusing the morning paper danced through my head as I scooped up a scabillion delicately nibbled pieces of coffee filter.
The other sure sign of spring is the reappearance of my old friend, the oak leaf, from under the snow. The last gray days of autumn are bad enough, the first blossoming days of spring festooned with the rotting corpses of last years leaf crop is enough to put a damper on even the friskiest of moods.
Ms. M.jr. has the system to a tee. At the first signs of spring she will zoom out into the backyard and rake like a dervish for oh, 10 or 15 minutes, then return to the house in a sweat to remind me that there are several hundred loads of leaves left to be raked.I can usually mumble my way through the first week of reminders, but long about day 6 or 7 my resolve begins to weaken and with heavy heart I clump up the stairs to climb into my Lee Valley tin pants and Northern Lights College sweatshirt.
A couple of years back we purchased a new garbage can, one of those high tech upright jobbies with the large loop handle / lid lock and two oversized wheels for rolling it to the curb. I don’t often wheel it though, since the sound it makes on the driveway from hell is second only to that of the Bomb in violating local noise ordnances. The garbage can makes a dandy leaf collector though; taking at least double what my leaf barrel does and adding the pleasure of pulling it somewhat drunkenly across the back 40 to my midden in the shubbery.
After listening to Ms. M.jr. complaining for several days about the putrid odour in the backyard I finally grabbed the leaf rake and my trusty snow shovel and headed for the backyard; trundling the garbage can behind me. It was a fine sunny Friday as I remember. In short order I had raked a huge pile of rotting leaves and deposited it lovingly on my midden, taking extra care to spread a deep layer over last falls only slightly decomposed cigarette butts.I smiled, cheshire cat-like, to myself and went back for another load.
It wasn’t long before I had raked a path from the angel birdbath to near the back stoop, where my cup of coffee sat steaming invitingly. I must emphasis the phrase ‘near the back stoop’ here, as opposed to ‘the back stoop’. In my way stood 2 barrels and a cauldron.
The barrels weren’t much problem, filled as they were with leaves. With a little effort I tipped their sloppy contents into my handy-dandy rolling garbage can and added them to the midden. The cauldron was a different story.
The cauldron was one of those 5 gallon faux witches cauldron made of ‘guaranteed to stink’ black plastic. Sometime last fall it had contained a plastic bag full of peat moss and tulip bulbs. This i suspected was the source of the oily film floating on top of the water, but I couldn’t be sure. To make things even more interesting, Ms. M.jr. had tucked the cauldron under the lip of the back stoop where it was guaranteed to catch maximum rainfall and be the worst b*tch on the planet to retrieve without dumping it’s foul contents. I sighed to myself and placing my feet gently in the middle of her flower bed, reached over and reefed on the cauldron.
Did I ever mention that I have a bad back, the result of an extremely dumb baseball mishap several years ago? Or did I ever mention that I spent a year on physio therapy trying to get the use of my legs back?
No eh?… I forget about it sometimes myself… especially when I am in a hurry and faced with an undesirable bit of lifting.
With an audible grating two malevolent vertebra in my back decided to part company. I howled in pain, let go of the cauldron and sat down abruptly. This was a very bad move.
In sitting down I clipped the edge of a kitty litter pan full of water (which I was trying to avoid entirely), dumping fetid water all over my right leg. My butt cheek then glanced off the pan and came to rest with a mighty crunch on the last remaining ceramic garden frog. But the fun didn’t end there. The cauldron had actually cleared the ground and came down between my feet. You guessed it. As I lay there, spread eagled in agony the cauldron tipped over… toward me.
There is no greater joy in the world (?) than lying on the ground in abject agony, totally immobile, with 5 gallons of cold, stinking, disease bearing water in your underwear.
I lay there for several minutes, my eyes screwed tightly shut, hoping the next words I would hear would be St. Peter asking me for my name, rank and serial number. Waves of pain shot up my legs, past my (I suspected) severely lacerated right cheek to the back of my head; which as it happens had contact the only flagstone within 10 feet on the way down. Finally I opened my eyes and turned my head to survey the damage. Water lay everywhere, pooling quickly and running downhill to form a miniature LeBreya Tarpits in the middle of the flower bed. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the overturned cauldron resting on my right foot with peat moss oozing over the top of my boot.
With great effort I hoisted myself up onto my elbows and painfully began to pick my sorry carcass up off the back lawn. As I slowly regained my feet I realized I had an audience. There sitting on the deck, quietly munching on a coffee filter was my friend… the raccoon.