Laura Rankin

Laura RankinLaura Rankin is a retired mother of four and grandma, a native of Oregon who now lives in the Puget Sound area of Washington State. She writes with a group of six friends who met in a memoir certificate course at the University of Washington. She enjoys walking, gardening, reading, writing and introducing her ten grandchildren to the beauties of nature. Several of her life-based essays have appeared in The Eugene Register Guard, and excerpts of her writing are included in the book Memoirs of the Soul by Nan Merrick Phifer. She writes true life stories.


Natural Neighbors

From my kitchen window I can see our neighbor’s un-mowed spring grass and the brown scar of dirt that a soil sampling team left three months ago. The wild grass shimmers with diamonds of dew—a royal carpet leading to the untamed kingdom north of our property line.

Now, in spring, the wild area presents blooming forsythia, reaching as tall as our house. Spiky blackberry vines hold the wispy branches to the sky in golden homage. I wonder if hummingbirds who visit love the blossoms as much as I do. Behind the forsythia, gnarly vines weave sturdy freeways for ants, spiders and even fat rodents. My granddaughters and I ran from a rat as we picked blackberries last summer. The girls were brave enough to continue our harvest once we all stopped screaming. Later, as we rolled out our pie crust, I made sure not to mention that a family of rats found their way into our attic the winter before. I want the girls to enjoy nature without being creeped out.

My neighbor has lived on her land all her life, over seventy years so far. Her family cultivated a cherry orchard that used to be where I now live. I see remnants of that vigorous orchard every time I work in my garden and find woody roots that must be chopped.

Next month when I open my kitchen window, the fragrance of white lilacs might greet me, but today the twenty foot tall bushes only bear tightly bound buds, promises of what’s to come.

What’s to come has been on my mind a lot lately, because the wild area has been sold. Zoning signs went up a few months ago and the time of permitting is at hand. Yesterday I heard the crack of limbs as men with boots trampled a pathway to where they put up an orange plastic fence. After they left I climbed up on my garden bench in our back yard to peer over our wood fence. In the seven years we’ve lived here, I’ve spent countless hours looking down pulling weeds, digging holes for new plants, but I’ve never looked over the fence.

I saw the caved-in roof of a ramshackle house nestled under the brambles. Luxurious ferns flourish in the dead wood of the branch that broke through the roof. The wood siding of the house was once painted white, but now is weathered down to the raw planks. Who might have lived there? Was it a shed for the cherry orchard? What people might have sweated and toiled here, long before I grew my garden?

I’ve been cultivating my dahlias and daisies during an in-between time on this piece of land. Whatever came before is as foreign as what will be.

When will the buzzing of bees change to the whir of that first chainsaw that will take down the first tree? How soon after that will they bulldoze a new foundation for the first of four houses they plan to build? Once it begins, nothing will ever be the same. Everything untamed will succumb to the mastery of machines. Where will the refugee animals go? The spiders whose webs twinkle, the rabbits whose noses twitch?

I’ve never thought of myself as a tree hugger and wouldn’t dream of stopping progress by scaling a tree with my osteoporotic bones, but I’m mourning this change. It’s still the time “in between.” The pine siskin still sings stubbornly for a mate. The stalwart robins insist on starting a family with their delightful monotonous songs. They are looking to the future, planning to weave their nests and hatch their eggs. They won’t know what hit them until something comes crashing down.

Meanwhile, across the street at the house built last year, the young dad walks his little girls to the mailbox like he does every night after work. In his arms, I’m surprised to see a bundle of blankets the size of a newborn human baby. It’s a delight to watch the young father tenderly cradle the baby while shepherding the other two girls away from the curb.

Another human family will replace my natural neighbors, and very soon. Who is drawing house plans today for their new home? Whose manufactured carpet will be rolled out on top of the earth that now grows spring grass? I wish them well as I cherish this time in-between.

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