The Landscape Is Alive

At Home Desire Path Final

We’re having a little landscaping done in our backyard.

Not on purpose, mind you. Nor are there any plans. Also, no one has been hired to do this. This landscaping all appears to simply happen organically. Each time we look out our window into our yard, well, some new feature just appears.

These “updates” are, of course, the result of my daughter. And her friends. And our new dog. The cat and the fish appear to play no role in all this.

Let’s begin with the dog, since Pip seems to be the catalyst for everything. Two days before Christmas, we drove down to the Jon Bon Jovi Rest Area in New Jersey, in the middle of a bomb cyclone, to pick up this runt of a litter. Take a minute to digest that sentence.

Got it? This is an adventure I’d not normally undertake.

But the girls in the house had been aching for a puppy, and Pip is hypo-allergenic, doesn’t shed, is friendly around cats and likes kids. He checked all the boxes. The machinations my wife went through to arrange such an adoption are a mystery to me. My role was simply to make sure the cat didn’t go insane and to get us there and back in one piece. So off we went.

Having a tiny puppy in the house is just about the equivalent of having a newborn in the house, at least in terms of neediness, messes and energy.

The puppy brings a perfect storm of chaos to our yard. Little Bean has a half-dozen friends in the couple blocks around our house, and even before Pip, they tended to hang out in our backyard, a veritable paradise of vegetables and flowers and herbs thanks to my wife’s dedication to this little plot of land we call our own.

But now, well, Pip’s presence has unexpectedly changed things. Where Pip goes, the children go. There is far more running in circles, carving favorite spots, rolling. My wife, the planner, calls what’s happening “Desire Paths.” That’s what happens when pedestrians ignore built sidewalks and walkways and choose to cut over a landscaped area. They desire to go in a direction unplanned by the planners.

Not long after Pip’s arrival, even when the kids and dogs were not in the yard, it started to become clear where they desired to play. There’s the spot over by the Jesus statue where Pip likes to, ahem, do his business. There’s the space behind the garage that I now had to cover with chicken wire to keep our little explorer from going too far and the kids away from spiders and ticks.

And there’s the straight up Desire Path—I call it a Happy Road, not so much to my wife’s amusement—that leads from our back gate down to the swing set. I suspect this new landscaping feature began before Pip arrived, but now it is a clear dirt cut, as defined as any White Mountain trail.

But we endure. We endure because the children are happy and a backyard ought to be organic. A garden breathes and fluctuates like the living entity it is.

Lisa Lubell, the famed director of the USDA’s Community Supported Agriculture Project, once commented not to worry about perfection in gardening. “Nature doesn’t grow in straight lines,” she said.

Well, do I have a backyard for her.

My guess is that come summer, we’ll look into aligning our backyard and garden a little more directly to fit the comings and goings of our new brood. Desire Paths bring mud holes, for example, if you let them. And it’ll be interesting to see how Pip interacts with the other summer backyard denizens, the birds and squirrels and rabbits that have settled in.

Until then, our green space will twist and turn and grow as it desires, a rolling plot of earth where the feet of babies and children see fit to tread. After all, as Mr. Bon Jovi would no doubt point out, “We’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got.”

And what we’ve got right now is a living landscape, organic and breathing, right down to the clover and the dried leaves. There’s a place for all this, as the children and the animals are discovering, and I’m happy to provide.

Just wait to see what happens in the summer when the sprinkler shows up.

Categories: At Home in NH