Murder in the neighborhood

Mrs. Dim is at it again.

Let’s get this straight from the beginning: a weed is an unwanted plant. There’s no other way to define the word. I believe that each person who pays a mortgage and property taxes has the right to define which plants are weeds on his or her property and which plants are wanted. If I think roses are ugly, then I can call rose bushes “weeds” and remove them from my property. I have no right to harm my neighbor’s rose bushes.

One of the native wildflowers in this neck of the woods is called daisy fleabane. It’s an elegant plant with small white daisy-like flowers with yellow centers that bloom in the spring and the summer. You can see clumps of them along the highway—the highway department encourages their growth. At first I didn’t recognize them, and I mowed them down along with the rest of my lawn. Two years ago I deliberately avoided a patch and let the plants grow and bloom. I did so again last year. Mrs. Dim called city hall to complain about my weeds. A man came out from city hall, looked at them, said they were fine, told her so, and called me and told me so. End of story… or at least it should be.

Again this year I recognized the emerging daisy fleabane and mowed around the patch. A few had started to bloom, but the leaves of many more were recognizable.

A week later, the next time I mowed, the plants that had been flowering were desiccated. The leaves of those that had not produced flowers were yellow with no flower stalks.

I suspect herbicide. I believe they have been poisoned.

I wonder if Mrs. Dim would confess to the crime if I asked her. She might point proudly to the label of her broad-leaf herbicide to show me that it says “weed-killer,” as if that proves that she is right. Short of a spoken confession or some photographic evidence, I do not have enough proof to file a case against Mrs. Dim and accuse her of the attack.

I have to love a person like Mrs. Dim. Not only does the Bible require me to love my neighbor, and to love even a person who chooses to be my enemy, but resorting to hatred and revenge would only allow her side to win. She is a bitter old lady who seems to want everyone else to be as miserable as she is.

In this case, it helps that I have some daisy fleabane flourishing in a more sheltered part of the lawn. It is blooming nicely. I will encourage it to spread.

I wonder, though, about the values of a person who poisons her neighbor’s plants. If it is acceptable to kill a creature because it is noxious and detrimental to the neighborhood… well, once we start down that road, where does it end, Mrs. Dim?

If I am living in this house twelve months from now—and feel free to join me in praying that I have moved by then—I think I will invest in one of those motion-detector security cameras that are advertised online. I will hide it on my deck, aimed at my patch of daisy fleabane. If I get footage of Mrs. Dim poisoning my wildflowers, I can meet her at the police station and show the footage to the authorities. Then I can lovingly charge her with trespassing, malicious destruction of private property, and whatever else the authorities suggest. She can counter-charge me with raising plants of which she does not approve. That should cause a few police officers to smile, perhaps even chuckle. J.

daisy fleabane

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A heavenly conversation

I wish I could take credit for writing this conversation. I must be honest, though, and confess that I found it at work this morning. The author is unknown; what I found was an email sent and printed in 2002. Aside from depicting the Creator as less than all-knowing, I think it is a very clever way of saying what I have been saying all along. J.

GOD: Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle, and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought, and multiply with abandon. The nectar from their long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees, and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colours by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.

ST. FRANCIS: It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord—the Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers “weeds” and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But it’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds, and bees—only grubs and sod worms. It’s temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it—sometimes twice a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS: No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD: Now let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut if off and pay to throw it away?

ST. PRANCIS: Yes, Sir.

GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

ST. FRANCIS: You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD: What nonsense! At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so Myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn the leaves fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It’s a natural circle of life.

ST. FRANCIS: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: No! What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call “mulch.” They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD: And where do they get this “mulch”?

ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD: Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have they scheduled for us tonight?

ST CATHERINE: “Dumb and Dumber.” Lord, it’s a really stupid movie about…

GOD: Never mind. I think I just heard the whole story from Francis.

 

Why nobody likes me

Mrs. Dim and I had a disagreement this weekend. I described it to Dwayne at City Hall as a difference of opinion; it could easily have been called a shouting match. I did not intend to shout at Mrs. Dim. In fact, I had not planned on speaking to her at all. When she began shouting insults at me, though, I found myself raising my voice to be heard.

This year Mrs. Dim is paying a young man to mow her yard (giving her more time, I guess, to play with her leaf blower). He had already mowed twice this year when I was not at home, and his mowing had taken him far across the property line into my bed of wildflowers. I was glad to be at home this time as he was working, so when he was ready to mow outside Mrs. Dim’s fence, I went over and introduced myself. “I’m J.,” I said, and “I’m Scott,” he answered, and we shook hands. I showed him where the corner of my property is—the surveyor’s stake is still there, pushed deep into the ground—and indicated the landmarks to follow that line to the other corner of Mrs. Dim’s yard. Scott was very attentive, and even after I went back inside he was careful to mow only to the line and not as far as he had mowed earlier this year.

Poor Scott, though, found himself in the middle of neighborly squabbling. Even before I had the chance to introduce myself, Mrs. Dim was already shouting, “Go back in your house, J.,” and, “A real Christian wouldn’t do what you’re doing, J.” She also shouted, “This is why nobody likes you, J.” She openly acknowledged that she had instructed Scott to cut my weeds. I tried to get Mrs. Dim to tell me what the word weed means—I was hoping to establish that a weed is an unwanted plant, so I could say that native wildflowers are not unwanted in my lawn, even if they are unwanted in hers. Instead, she only pointed at my wildflowers and shouted, “That’s a weed,” leading me to handle the daisy-like bloom gently and answer (in as loud a voice as hers, I regret to say), “This… is a flower.”

Scott handled the situation well, mowing along the property line and then over to Mrs. Dim’s fence. I went inside, hoping the problem was over for the time being. After Scott left, Mrs. Dim played her radio in her garage at top volume for about half an hour to show her displeasure—surprisingly childish behavior for a woman who is nearing seventy years old. I put on a Schubert CD and kept the windows closed and was able to survive her tantrum unharmed.

This morning I called City Hall to verify that I have the right to raise wildflowers on my property. I indicated that they are the same kind of wildflowers that the state’s highway department encourages along the highways. Dwayne said that, of course, I’m allowed to grow native wildflowers on my own property, although he was unwilling to put that statement into writing for me. Instead, he said that if my neighbor is coming onto my property and cutting down my plants, I should either call the police or hire an attorney.

I think I handled the situation as well as was possible for me. With my battles with anxiety, confrontations are difficult for me. Although she has not taken the time to get to know me, Mrs. Dim knew how to make her insults stick in my head. I have had to remind myself repeatedly that people do like me—at work, at church, where I teach, and lots of places. It’s only Mrs. Dim who doesn’t like me.

 

People have asked me why I don’t just talk to Mrs. Dim when I have a problem with her—when her prolonged leaf-blowing is getting on my nerves, for example. This episode, I think, verifies what I already suspected. Mrs. Dim cannot be approached calmly and reasonably. The better approach for both of us is for me to maintain a healthy distance. With any luck, someday soon she will relocate to a retirement community where they will let her play with the leaf blower as much as she wants, and I won’t know anything about it. J.