Posted on July 14th, 2016
Dear subscribers: I’m posting this one a few days early to make up for posting the next one a few days late. The reason is that I’ll be out of wi-fi contact for a while. To find out why, be sure to read the one after this, which I’ll post early next month. — Tim
HOOD CANAL, Wash. – When my wife and I returned this year from our annual trek to the family cabin to keep the weeds (and to an extent the neighbors) at bay, I wondered for the first time whether it was worth it.
Not that we aren’t lucky to have the place. Usually it’s wealthy people, or those whose parents or grandparents built cabins when vacation property was ridiculously cheap, who are fortunate enough to have such getaways.
Ours came to us more or less by default. My wife’s folks built a place on Hood Canal in Washington state when it could be done inexpensively. They built it with their own hands, spent summers there until its flights of stairs became too much for them, then sold it and bought another one, without stairs, a short distance away.
We joined them there every summer to go boating, clamming, beaching and otherwise enjoy ourselves. It was the best time of the whole year.
When my father-in-law died and my mother-in-law’s health problems kept her from going there anymore, things changed. Now, the responsibilities are ours. Days of glorious loafing have given way to paying the bills and doing the maintenance work. Giving up loafing to pull weeds, sand and repaint the deck, scrape moss off of the roof and other chores made us realize how good we had it as guests all those years.
Keeping a place where you spend only a few weeks a year from looking like it’s been abandoned is challenging at best. The biggest problem – weeds. I don’t know if it’s true but have heard that an evergreen tree that takes 300 years to grow to a certain height in Idaho takes 30 years in Washington – the Evergreen State. All that rain – our part of Hood Canal can get more rain in a month than Boise does all year – makes for weeds of shocking proportions.
When we arrived for Weed War One last year, the grass and weeds were three feet tall. This year, we had schedule conflicts and couldn’t make it until later in the season. A slow learner, I naively hoped that somehow we’d get lucky and the weeds wouldn’t be three feet tall again.
They weren’t. They were four feet tall.
“It’s a jungle!” my wife said as we parked the car. “No wonder we got that thing in the mail.”
“What thing in the mail?”
“The property owners’ newsletter. It said that some people had been letting their yards go and needed to take better care of them.”
Our yard clearly had to be at the top of the list. Hoping the neighbors weren’t forming an impromptu lynching party, we hustled our things inside and locked the doors for the night. If we could make it till morning without the more volatile neighbors knowing we were there, there was a chance for redemption.
In the bright, hopeful light of morning, the yard looked even worse. Every weed known to exist in Washington, and possibly then some, was there and thriving. Did I say four feet tall? A few were five feet tall. More than a few had stalks almost as big around as my wrist. I’m fairly certain that some of them had fangs.
That was in the front yard. In the back yard, the grass was knee deep and billowing in the breeze like a Kansas wheat field.
There isn’t any grass in the front yard any more, thanks to our ingenious attempt a couple of years ago to achieve year-round weed control. We were so mortified by the yard’s appearance on our spring visit in 2014 that we devised a “permanent solution.”
First we sprayed the front lawn with weed and grass killer. Then we put down weed-barrier fabric guaranteed to stop everything but a nuclear attack. On the front half of the yard next to the street, we put six inches of gravel on top of the weed barrier. On the other half, next to the house, we put bark over the weed barrier. To brighten things up a bit, we made rings of block and planted flowers in them. Then, feeling smug and righteous, we we drove home to Boise and celebrated our solution.
What we didn’t realize was that our week of grinding labor to banish weeds forever had instead created an ideal planting medium for airborne weed seeds. They quickly outdid themselves at sprouting in the bark and gravel (probably the minute we left for Boise), resulting in the debacle that had us hiding in the house overnight like criminals.
Early the next morning, we were up and pulling weeds. Some had roots so deep they had to be dug out with a shovel. That was in the bark. The gravel, meanwhile, had hardened into something like concrete. Pulling the roots there was next to impossible – with a shovel or even a crowbar. Those we sprayed. The tall grass in the back yard was brought into submission with a weed eater. Getting the place to look respectable again took three long, hard days. By then the neighbors had called off the posse and were speaking to us again.
And I was beginning to wonder whether it would make sense to sell the place. The kids and grandkids would never speak to us again, but they weren’t the ones nursing blisters and and slipped discs every spring. We had, in fact, gone full circle. Like my wife’s folks before us, we were now the ones doing the work while the kids did the loafing. And from a practical standpoint, how much sense does it make to pay the bills every month and try to keep a house and yard looking presentable when you’re only there a few weeks a year?
On our last night before heading home, I decided to go for a walk to get the kinks out and decide how to approach the clan about selling the place. As usual, my footsteps took me to the dock.
The dock is one of my favorite places anywhere. It’s at the end of a long pier that stretches far out over the water. A ramp angles down from the pier to the dock itself, which rises and falls with the tide and has room for a few deck chairs.
There I sat. The dock creaked and rocked with the waves and the tide; the salt breeze was almost palpable. I could see for miles – boats bobbing on the sparkling water, evergreen forests on either side, the pressures of everyday life far away.
On second thought, what are a few weeds?
Sell the place? What was I thinking?
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Statesman and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.