It’s not true that inanimate objects can’t speak to us.
I realized this recently during the annual rite of getting-the-back-yard-ready-for-summer.
The yard had gone unattended and virtually ignored for months. Weeds were sprouting, the lawn needed mowing, the deck was cluttered with lawn furniture and other oddments stored for the winter. All were covered with a formidable layer of grunge.
The luxury of procrastinating was over. A public television crew was coming by to get my input for a documentary about Idaho, and the producer had suggested doing the filming in the back yard. It was time to get to work.
Normally it’s a job I detest. But in freeing the summer yard art from winter storage in the garage, something unexpected happened. Unexpected and wonderful.
The first things to be dragged from the garage were the chimes. We bought them a few years ago at a shop in Port Townsend, Wash. I was reluctant because they were the most expensive chimes there, but my wife prevailed. She usually does when her husband is acting like a cheapskate, and in this case it was a good thing.
The chimes were made by a company in a small town in Virginia and are hand-tuned. It took some experimenting to discover how significant that was.
The pricey chimes didn’t make a sound for the first week or two, even on moderately windy days. Not expecting much in the way of help, I emailed the company. My email was returned almost immediately by a woman named Cindy. Cindy suggested moving the chimes to different locations, where they’d be more likely to catch the wind. It didn’t help.
“You probably need a bigger sail,” she wrote upon learning this. “I’ll send you one. Don’t worry. I’m sure your chimes will sing for you.”
The bigger sail (the circular disc suspended below the chimes themselves) worked like magic. The chimes sang. They sang melodically, beautifully. The hand tuning was all it was cracked up to be.
They sang as I hung them up as the first step in the back yard’s resurrection. They made me think of the ever-helpful Cindy, and made me feel unexpectedly happy. Suddenly the spring cleanup didn’t seem as burdensome.
Next came the beer-cap pot.
A bit of explanation is required here. Attached to a back wall of our house is a metal bottle opener. You insert the bottle, push it down with a flick of the wrist and the cap falls into a pot on the patio. For some reason, this never fails to make me smile. The pot, liberated from a garage shelf, spoke to me. It promised the imminent arrival of summer, cold beer and good times.
Lurking in a quiet corner of the dining room since October was the oldest member of the yard-art collection, the elephant.
The elephant didn’t start life as yard art; it was an assignment for our younger daughter’s junior high school art class. It occupied a place of honor in the living room for years, but people kept running into it and breaking off its ears and tusks.
Now, glued together but for a missing tusk, it spends its summers in the back yard. It’s safer there. I put it in a patch of ivy, where it looked for all the world like a miniature elephant in a miniature jungle. It seemed pleased to be there. It pleased me to see it there.
This brings us to the guitar-playing frog.
No, that’s not a misprint. Every year a friend drives a truck to Mexico and loads it up with an eclectic assembly of yard art, from decorative glass balls to a life-sized metal bull. He sells it in a makeshift corral he set up at a busy intersection.
The frog caught my eye when I stopped to visit him there one day. It’s frog green, of course, with a dapper purple hat and a bright yellow guitar. I dusted it off and carefully positioned it next to a pole that supports a birdhouse made by another friend. They complemented each other well, but gave me a twinge of guilt.
“Go see your friends,” they seemed to say.
They were right. It had been too long.
Last came the copper pinwheel, the beach flag and the hanging flower pots. Flowers were chosen, purchased, planted. Then it was time to mow the lawn, sweep the deck and do other routine chores.
The final touch was calling the man who comes every spring to fill and fire up the fountain.
Strictly speaking, fountain is too big a word. It’s actually a pot of water with an underground pump that pushes water to the surface, creating a sort of mini-fountain.
With the fountain back in business and a few other minor chores completed, the yard was presentable again. No need to be embarrassed when the TV guys came for their interview.
Long experience with photographers has taught me not to be surprised when they change locations. They looked the yard over carefully, conferred and decided to do the shoot someplace else. I’m still not sure why. Maybe the light in the yard wasn’t right.
Or the sound of the chimes would have been distracting.
Or maybe they had an aversion to guitar-playing frogs in purple hats.
It didn’t matter, really. When they left, I opened a beer, smiled as the first bottle cap of the season landed in the pot and pulled up a chair. The chimes sang; the fountain bubbled. The day was warm, the beer cold, the yard, its trappings and its owner in perfect harmony.
As the late, great columnist Charles McCabe would have put it, “Life, where is thy sting?”