The makeover of the “back forty” is proving to be a useful metaphor for aging: Do what you want to do now or accept forever the way things are.
The makeover started because I finally decided I was tired of staring at a brick wall and 12-foot-high barbecue chimney that separated the backyard from a similar-sized plot that decades ago had been a city right-of-way. My ever-increasing awareness of mortality has made me both more decisive and more accepting. I realize that postponing things I want to do is a recipe for never doing them. All my adult life, I had fantasies of taking trips to faraway places, but I found excuses not to go. That ended 12 years when I and my wife, who also had never traveled overseas, decided that we would take retirement on the installment plan. We would head to Greece, Turkey and Asia instead of waiting until retirement.
Looking back, that was a good decision. Being in good health is a requirement for the somewhat adventurous trips we like to take. Third-world countries don’t offer many amenities for the disabled, and hiking through the Amazon isn’t for those with severe arthritis. Spending 26 hours to go from Sacramento to Vietnam requires stamina, patience and good headphones. Visiting the countries we had always longed to see has enriched our lives, and we hope to continue our travels. But we can’t escape the fact that several longtime friends have died in the past year and several others have become incapacitated.
One day in late January, I looked at the wall and chimney, which I had been doing daily for the 13 years I’ve lived in this house, and decided to get a hammer and try knocking out a few bricks that were hidden under a wall of ivy. That proved to be an easy task and the die was cast. Once I had taken my hammer to the top of the chimney, there was no turning back.
I’ve been working almost daily on the makeover for four months. In the process, I have rediscovered the law of home improvements: one change begets another. In knocking down the chimney, I realized that the whole darn wall could come down, and the backyard and back forty could be united into one graceful expanse of beautiful garden. The only major obstacle was all the pool equipment the wall was hiding. Or so it seemed. After the equipment was relocated, other challenges reared their head, and other visions arose.
Like the one of a Japanese garden. Back in my days as a single guy, I indulged my taste for such gardens and labored to properly align boulders and partially bury them so they would appear to have been in place for a hundred years. I rather liked the austere look. But my wife is a fan of lush English gardens. The marital reality has required a creative integration of our tastes, which explains why almost five tons of rock landed in my driveway last week as part of my vision for a dry creek in the back-forty.
That’s a long story and a rocky one.