A set stage of foliage
Nature’s comedy arrived
Will it be a happy page
Or artificially contrived
It was March. The smell of dirt. Its coolness, its softness. The chalkiness of my fingers. It was hard work, but it was done. The hydrangeas were in.
The smart watering system was installed a couple of days earlier. It was top of the line, the Honeybee 3738x. Everything was automatic.
We had put in the work and now, because of this system, we were free.
“Why do you want a smart watering system?” Mae had asked me. “A simple drip system will work just fine. Why is everything becoming smart… it doesn’t really make things better and it’s always complicated. These smart appliances and things just get in the way and cause more problems.”
“But what if we’re away from the house on a hot day or on vacation? Also if I get it working right, we won’t have to remember to water or accidentally overwater.” I felt my counterargument thin, but it was enough for me to justify using new technology.
The white-blossomed hydrangeas lined the driveway. It was a right turn off a dead end road, a long gravel stretch that led past two neighbors, one to the right, then one to the left. Then it hit our property line and dropped down a sub-10% grade hill that curved to the left and stair-stepped down to our recently built colonial. The house was white, and a thin concrete path lined by dwarf boxwoods led to the front stoop and black front door. The house was set against a green field that backed up against an endless forest. The nearby Cascade foothill in view could be inspected with garden-variety binoculars and, though it was diminutive in comparison to the rest of the range, towered over the scene.
The hydrangeas flourished, and by late June they were blooming. I was proud of the whole yard, but nothing compared with our hydrangeas.
“Mae, come outside, you have to see this.”
Mae smiled a small smile. This was a common request. She often asked me the same question. It was still warm enough, and it was still. “It’s beautiful, honey.”
The sun was about to set.
Within the week, the Foster-Jenkins had emailed us with an invitation for our kids to go to the movies. “The temperature is going to be in the 90s and the theater is air conditioned,” was the reasoning.
“That’s sweet of them to think of us,” I automatically responded.
“You know, why don’t we have their whole family over here for dinner instead,” Mae insisted. “It would be nice to see Kim and John.”
“Yes, we have air conditioning at the house and they probably don’t know that. Plus the kids can play outside and enjoy this weather. They can cool off in the stream, and have otter pops. It will be fun!” I raised an eyebrow “we can show them our hydrangeas.”
The Foster-Jenkins arrived in the heat of the day, which was about 2:30 pm. They rode their brakes down the drive. Their kids, Lily and Jason scampered out of their QX80, and Kim followed. Tall, besunglassed John slowly opened his door and with a large smile.
“Hey James, thanks for having us over. Beautiful home. Worth the work.” John’s voice boomed out over the meadow.
“Yes it is gorgeous!” added Kim, who emphasized and elongated her words.
I stepped off the stoop and approached them. “Thanks! We’re super happy with the outcome. It was a long process.”
Kim smiled and widened her eyes. “Your flowers are gorgeous” she sang out with fervor as she motioned back toward the driveway. “They’re literally the most beautiful flowers I have ever seen.”
The praises and thanks continued as we adults entered the home. Lily and Jason ran around the back to catch up with our four boys who were already playing bocce ball in the back. The boys all shouted their greetings and took to showing their friends the ropes with much chatter.
Inside, the guests demanded the obligatory new home tour. Mae guided Kim and John through the home, not without pride and caveats. Not everything had been completed the way it was intended, and the inconsistencies annoyed her. The rooms were filled with the sounds of affirmation such as “love”, “gorgeous”, “most”, “adore”, and “absolutely”. Many smiles transacted. The party finished upstairs and they all descended the open-railing staircase, through the entry, past the music room, through the living room, and into the kitchen.
“OMG I’m so glad you have air conditioning, it’s way too hot out there.” Kim jerked her hand up and pointed out the row of cased kitchen windows that surveyed the scene out back. Her accusation was well timed. Her children were clambering up the steps of the back porch toward the glass slider which was positioned in the middle of the house. The green of the field and trees lay behind them.
“Mom it’s too hot” they groaned with emphasized and elongated words.
“It’s nice and cool in here, why don’t you just stay inside?”
Our boys weren’t far behind them, excited to be with friends.
They all burst in and plopped down on the new couches which were positioned in front of the fireplace, which was stoned from its raised hearth up through the ceiling.
Mae glanced at me.
“Hey guys, why don’t you all play a game in the playroom! There’s a whole shelf of games to choose from,” I suggested.
“We have Monopoly!” shouted our third, Brian.
“That’s boring,” mumbled Jason.
“Yeah let’s play Nintendo,’ added Ward, our oldest.
“OH ZELDA Tears of the Kingdom! I call first!” Brian jumped back in again.
John sealed it. “That sounds like an awesome idea.” Any adult endorsement was gospel. The kids swarmed the playroom.
The hydrangeas waited along the driveway.
Dinner was 5:00pm. The Foster-Jenkins brought a cooler of food for themselves due to their diet. Mae had ordered pizza ahead of time for the kids. “Jason’s in a pizza phase. It’s all I can get him to eat right now,” Kim had emailed ahead of their visit. Mae and I also ate pizza, although I had a gluten-free pizza.
“So John, how's business?” I attempted to keep the conversation alive.
John took the baton. “Never been better. Our fleet has more work than they can handle! It’s good to have the work.” John thundered. “Our drivers are getting overtime every week. To be honest,” he added with a smile and self-perceived lower tone, “I’m making more money than ever before. You wouldn’t know it, but this industry is a goldmine. We’re also in the process of converting to all electric vehicles which unlock a whole new set of customers. We’re moving to E81 vans, but conversions can be tricky…”
John continued for a few more minutes. Small talk was cultivated and maintained through the course of dinner.
By 25 minutes in, the children’s table had grown in volume.
“Guys, let’s finish our bocce game,” Wes, our youngest, commanded the children before dinner had wrapped.
“It’s too hot, I don’t wanna go back outside”
“Why don’t you all take otter pops out,” suggested Mae. “They’ll keep you cool while you play.”
“Oh, I don’t like them eating otter pops," interjected John. “Too much sugar and dye. We actually have to get going anyway because the kids have evening lacrosse practice.”
Kim smiled at her children. “Jason, Lily, time to go or we’ll be late.”
Everyone headed toward the entry. As feet were inserted into sandals and shoes, Kim announced, “we just must get a photo of all the kids in front of your flowers! I have to Instagram this, it’s so perfect.”
The children were arranged and ordered in front of the hydrangeas.
“Ok everyone look at me! Smile!” Kim sang and snapped her shot. She inspected her screen. “Lily and Brian, you didn’t smile! You need to follow my instructions. Let’s try again kids.”
After a few more attempts, she was satisfied. “Posted! Tagged you Mae. Ok bye!” She hustled her children into the Infinity. Our kids chased the car along the side of the driveway, waving and shouting as the Foster-Jenkins revved to get up the driveway hill.
We let our children play long into the evening. When the boys were asleep, Mae and I returned to the back porch and shared a bottle of Red Mountain cabernet. I smoked Romeo Y Julieta mini cigars. The lingering light slowly dimmed and we chatted about the day, and our children, and the garden, until the light of Venus gleamed in our eyes. We went to bed at about 11:30 pm. The hydrangeas sat peacefully by the driveway and light of the planets shone on the plants for a little while longer. Each globe of petals became its own galaxy, as they did every night.
Green grasses stamped with yellow
Beg for sun and rain
Jeff Bezos, such a fellow
Asks for just the same
A couple days later, I noticed the hydrangeas were wilting. I checked the sprinkler system app, which I had forgotten to pay attention to as everything had gone so well thus far. The system was offline. “Weird.” I was annoyed. I hiked across the yard to check the standalone water spigot where the smart water system attachment was set up. Part of the plastic piece was broken off and on the ground.
I went and inquired of the children, likely culprits.
Ward informed me. “Dad, I don’t think any of us did this. I’m pretty sure it was Jason. When he was over I saw him over here and I told him to come back down because I know we’re not supposed to mess with the spigot. But he wouldn’t come back down, and then a couple minutes later he went back into the house.”
“Thanks for letting me know Ward.”
Ward returned to the house. I, on the other hand, trudged to the shed and to retrieve the extra garden hose. I cursed under my breath as I dug around to find it. The shed had been hastily filled in the move, and it was not very organized. I discovered it under a tarp.
Watering the hydrangeas by hand wasn’t hard, but it took a lot of time. Why had I planted so many of them? The sun beat down. My neck burned. The dirt gobbled up the water. I over-soaked the plants to make up for the past few days, but I wasn’t sure if it was necessary. Better safe than sorry. I finished and went inside.
“Where did you go?” asked Mae.
“The smart watering system is broken, that’s why the hydrangeas were wilting. I think Jason broke it this weekend, or at least that’s what Ward thinks. I was out just now watering them and now I’m sunburned and annoyed.”
Mae looked at me and laughed a little. She cracked a small smile. “Sheesh. That’s annoying. Can you fix it?”
“I’m looking into it.”
I found a digital version of the Honeybee manual on Google and reviewed the components of the system. It looked like part A385df48-T was the piece that was broken. It was $57.34 to replace. Not bad. But it was out of stock on Honeybee’s site. I went to Amazon. Also out of stock. How often did this piece break? I looked further down the Amazon search results. There was a listing for $12.49 that read “A385df48-J, A385df48-K, a385df48-T, a385df48-T-aero Watering System Regulator Compatible with Honeybee 3738, 3738x, 3901a, 3738b”. It was Prime, but delivery time was 2-5 days. There were 20 other similar listings, but this one had 4.8 stars and 243 reviews. I considered my situation. I felt like I had no other choices, so I hit buy now.
I realized I didn’t have enough spigots to set up enough sprinklers for coverage of all the hydrangeas. I set up the one I had on hand, but became determined to water the rest by hand until the part arrived. I rose 30 minutes earlier than usual in the morning so I could water the hydrangeas before work. I cursed a bit as I woke up out of a dead sleep.
The hydrangeas looked more alive that morning than they had the day before. I trudged from plant to plant until the job was done. My brain was singularly focused on my anger. I had so much to do that day. This was yet another thing to add to my list, and I knew I was going to have to do it again tomorrow. The day came and went quickly. I felt like it hardly existed at all. I again set my alarm to 30 minutes earlier than normal.
In the morning I mechanically rose on the third alarm, which was not unusual for me, and set out to water the hydrangeas. I completed my task without much thought. However, the flowers were fully perked up, and it was clear they were safe in my care. I was glad.
On the third day, I woke to my early alarm. On this day, I was determined to use my 30 minutes of watering to mentally prepare for my upcoming day. After all, this might be the last day of watering and it could be an opportunity. I wasn’t going to let this time go to waste. Before I went to water, I reviewed my calendar and tasks ahead. As I watered, I thought about strategies for my meetings and ways I could unblock projects I was working on. My mind wandered to my family. My boys were getting older. Ward was already a teenager. How could I be a better father? I prayed for each one of them, and I prayed for myself to be a better father. It was cloudy that day, and the light made the hydrangeas seem so soft. I smiled to myself.
On the fourth day, getting out of bed was hard, but I forced myself up. I checked my calendar and tasks. I set about the watering. I started thinking, but my mind didn’t take to the day’s work tasks. I realized last week I had reflected on my kids, and today I should think about Mae. Mae loved nature and gardens. It was her idea to plant the hydrangeas in the first place. She loved them. I knew she appreciated that I was watering them. I thought back to the weekend when we had sat exhausted on the porch into the evening. That was joy. We should do that every night. I prayed for her.
On the fifth day, I set out to water the plants. I reminded myself that today was the day the part should arrive. The hydrangeas looked brilliant in the morning sun. It reminded me of my parents’ first hydrangea when I was a child. It would also look cheerful in the morning light. My mom had carefully tended that hydrangea from a tiny little plant that almost didn’t survive until it became a large healthy many-bloom bush. My parents had invested so much of themselves into their garden. It made our house a home, a truly wonderful place to grow up. And now, here I was, doing the same. I resolved to call my mom later that day.
By the end of the day, it was clear the part was not coming. I was less annoyed than I thought that I would be. The mornings were time well spent and had become the best time to consolidate my thoughts. I decided I wouldn’t reach out to Amazon and just let things be for a while. I called my mom and talked with her for an hour.
On the seventh day, I received a notification from Amazon that the part was out for delivery. I was excited to fix the system, but told myself that I would continue to take 30 minutes to reflect and plan in the morning. That afternoon, the Amazon delivery truck turned down our road.
I happened to be in the yard when the truck arrived. My pickup was parked along the side of the driveway, opposite the flowers. The driver squeezed in, just missing the hydrangeas. I ran up to meet him. The driver hopped out and handed me the package.
“Need me to move my truck so you can get by?”
The driver smiled. “I made it in, so I think I can get out. I have to run, today’s schedule is overbooked.”
The driver sped backward. He charged toward my pickup, and upon realizing his trajectory, corrected course the other direction. The truck veered too far, and the wheel tore through 15 feet of galaxies. As the truck crested over the hill, the last thing I saw was the Amazon logo. It was not lost on me that Amazon had ended the AmazonSmile donation program earlier that year.
Mae and I sorted through the wreckage. We revitalized what we could. That weekend, we built a small retaining wall along the perimeter of the flowers to nudge drivers back into the driveway.
I attempted to fix the Honeybee Water System but the piece I ordered didn’t fit.
A short time later, we set up a “manual” drip watering system that the family turned on and off once a day. It was simple, and it saved a lot of time. Mae had been right. She usually was. I smiled at her as we worked together to install the system.
Let us work together
In service to Above
Let us tend together
The garden of our love