As I write the sky is blue, the clothesline is full, the crocuses are up and the birds are singing, but yesterday it was blowing a gale, and we know the rain/snow mix is coming back soon. There will be more snow, interspersed with warmish days, and that means mud. I truly wouldn't mind more snow if it was going to be reliable snow, white and fluffy and all that, but we all know better. It's going to be a mess.
My own yard is a source of some discouragement, to be sure. I need a system. We have given some thought to small, incremental ways we might chip away at this mud-season ugly-yard malaise. Some of the best ideas invariably came down to either weapons or calories. That figures.
Herewith, 10 suggestions, good for the inner psyche and the outer attitude. Most of these remedies are best taken in small doses. Normal people don't have time for much more than that anyway.
Hack something down. Thrash away at bushes, weeds, briar patches, overgrown lilacs, tall grass, whatever. Make a dent in the jungle. Use a powerful and, if possible, historically significant weapon. Think about the heroes and villains who have swung a machete, a Gurkha knife, a scythe or an ax. Put some muscle into it. This is a good opportunity to indulge in physical violence. Sharp steel will feel good in your hands, and after all, it's also tax time, so it may be restorative to destroy something. Try not to hurt yourself. Wear your work boots.
Rescue something. Many yards have, hiding somewhere, a flower buried in the weeds, a few tulips trying to poke up through a tangle of dead stuff, or some stonework or bricks or fencing barely visible anymore for the overgrowth. Find, maybe, just one square yard to tidy up. That'll do for now. Don't set yourself too big a task. Bring out something hot to drink while you work in the yard. It isn't spring yet.
The forecast is indicating some cold nights coming up. Indulge in a last round of wintertime treats. Make hot chocolate, or maybe egg nog. If appropriate and you don't have to fly an airplane soon, put ardent spirits therein. Sit by your fire and toast your feet. Make gingersnaps. Eat them while they're still warm.
Scrape some paint. Put some very loud and raucous music on your MP3 or truck stereo and blast it like a teenager; you'll need to. This is a tedious, demoralizing, uncomfortable and universally disagreeable job but if you don't do it, you can't get a nice, easy job out of painting something later when the weather warms up enough, and that — the paint job — will definitely make you feel better about the place. If you do a little scraping now (or bleaching, if there is mildew) — even just a little, one-door frame or just the back steps — you can paint with ease on a milder day and revel in the satisfaction of a truly noticeable improvement. Also, doing it this time of year, there's no spiders. Then, bandage up your bloody knuckles and go to the hardware store and stare at the paint color cards for a while, knowing it's for real this time. Then, go out for Chinese.
While at the hardware store, you might also look at plans for little projects. I'm talking small things, no bigger than a picnic table, even just a bird feeder or one of those thingies for a rosebush to climb. Unlikely most of us will find time or guts to start into significant carpentry — even if we have the yard space, which is rare — but many in this part of the world have room for some tiny improvement made of wood. Find something at your level, with full instructions and a materials list. Buy a new hammer, or whatever tool you can afford, even if it's nothing more than a nice new paintbrush. Such a treat.
Especially if you live far from the luxuries of civilization, and by that I mean restaurants, make good use of your crock-pot. Have a delicious supper waiting for yourself after a day—or even an hour—of struggling with mud, dead trees, paint chips, or anything else so mind-numbingly bleak. Make the kitchen smell wonderful, like chili or curry or Irish stew.
Consider the entry to your home. Is there some busted or ugly bit you can't help but see every day? Replacing a dented mailbox, painting a peeling door, getting rid of a half-wrecked screen door, cleaning out some neglected window boxes or planters, or patching a cracked concrete step might be possibilities. OK, admittedly, that stuff is all very boring and neither you nor anybody else really notices the problem. But, you will notice if you fix it. It might even make you smile just a tiny bit when you come home. Here's another idea along those lines: whack down or dig out some damned stupid bush that's always been in the way. Maybe it's been beside the house since three owners ago and nobody in their right mind would have planted it right there, where it blocks the sun to the kitchen window or makes it hard to get to the oil fill pipe or bangs into your mirror every time you drive in. Forget loyalty to whomever in the past. Go to the stump dump and give it the heave-ho. If you like bushes, proceed (after it warms a little more) to one of the local nurseries and choose something manageable and plant it where it's not in anybody's way. There; that's a lot better.
If you don't have pickup truck, borrow one for a weekend. Then, figure out all the good things you can get done while you have the use of a truck for two days. Stuff has got to go, right? Isn't there a dead water heater in the basement? Always thought it might be nice to have a little apple tree out back, or a swing-set, or some bricks to make a walkway? Now's your chance. You might need a dump sticker. Also, Ibuprofen.
Consider doing something distinctly odd, something that will cause a snooty neighbor to make faces or inspire consternation among the garden club, the homeowners association, the condo board, the local peer pressure to not get above your raisin', or whatever other form of aesthetic structural tyranny you may find yourself living under. Bright colors will often serve well for this job. If it comes to it, paint your fence bright red. Of course, most red paint won't stay bright for too long in the sun, but it may be preferable to lawn art made out of plumbing fixtures, which is also an option under the right circumstances.
Have a Mudslide party. Invite some like-minded friends over — or all go out together, because if you go out then you don't have to clean up all the mud they've tracked all over your floor — and indulge in any of the myriad variations on the theme of cream, Kahlua, Irish Cream, Crème de Cacao, etc. This may not appeal to the hard-core whiskey expert, who thinks an elaborate mixed drink a bit sissy, or to the healthy-eating enthusiast, who will disapprove of all that sugar, or to the “I-only-drink-Bud-Light-because-I-don't-budge-from-my-routine” in-a-rut type, who always drinks the same thing all the time, but then again, ruts are part of the problem this time of year. Damn the ruts. If you can watch your language, invite the children. Serve them chocolate milk with more syrup than usual. We're all in this together. You might also get them to help you scrape paint.
Eva Murray lives on Matinicus
More Industrial Arts
• Plesiosynchronicity, and a snowy day
• A day of planning and practicing in preparation for major storms (posted March 10, 2016)
• Time to take down the (island) Christmas tree (posted March 3, 2016)
• Snow Day on Matinicus (posted Feb. 14, 2016)
• Going to Rockland for pie (and beer and art glass and ukuleles...) (posted Feb. 3, 2016)
• Eva Murray: Pencil to paper (posted Jan. 21, 2016)
• A new year, a new winter (posted Dec. 31, 2015)
• ‘A tiny, happy place’ (posted Dec. 14, 2015)
• Metal artist Blair Clement brings wave-washed junk to life (posted Sept. 20, 2015)
• Maine veterans and a most sentimental biker (posted June 1, 2015)
• Wild Island Child (posted April 8, 2015)
• Last holdouts of offshore outpost finally accept reality (posted April 1, 2015)
• Truck on boat (posted March 16, 2015)
• Public works (posted Feb. 25, 2015)
• A constant struggle (posted Feb. 14, 2015)
• Pie Hero, Pie Villain (posted Jan. 29, 2015)
• Safely out to sea (posted Jan. 27, 2015)
• Je suis (posted Jan. 13, 2015)
• Making merry on Matinicus, with only a few (posted Dec. 25, 2014)
• The smallest emergency medical service around (posted Sept. 29, 2014)
• Islanders host 'Man Overboard!' discussion, rescue demonstrations (posted Sept. 8, 2014)
• Logistics (posted July 31, 2014)
• Black Hawks over Criehaven (posted July 16, 2014)
• On a sunny Saturday, when the steel band came to Matinicus (posted June 6, 2014)
• The last day of winter (posted April 16, 2014)
• Puppies, basketball champs not injured by explosive five-bulldozer wreck, dump fire, and zoning board (posted March 13, 2014)
• In a good old hardware store (in memory of Everett Crabtree) (posted Feb. 28, 2014)
• What is it like to be one of Maine's Search and Rescue volunteers? (posted Feb. 9, 2014)
• Arts and hobbies (posted Jan. 31, 2014)
• Santa Claus and the yard sales - why I own more monkey wrenches than you do (posted Jan. 15, 2014)
• Quiet on this last day of the year (Dec. 31, 2013)
• A one-room school Christmas (posted Dec. 21, 2013)
• Here's wishing us all a little rebellion in this happy season (posted Dec. 12, 2013)
• Roadside assistance (posted Nov. 27, 2013)
• On the many kinds of emergency responders (posted Nov. 18, 2013)
• (In defense of...) Breakfast for supper (posted Oct. 22, 2013)
• Fish Factory (posted Sept. 9, 2013)
• 350 dot Rockland... and many ruminations on small efforts (posted Aug. 30, 2013)
• Trains and planes and heroes (posted July 15, 2013)
• Joining the community of artists (posted July 4, 2013)
• Worth every penny (posted July 27, 2013)
• It's about showing up. Some thoughts on EMS Week (posted May 27, 2013)
• Ethanol, gasoline, and public safety (posted April 17, 2013)
• A system that makes it hard on people who want to do the right thing (part 2) (posted March 29, 2013)
• A system that makes it hard on people who want to do the right thing (part 1) (posted March 21, 2013)
• 'It's important' (posted Jan. 18, 2013)
• Tree crew (posted Dec. 28, 2012)
• Light the candles (posted Dec. 13, 2012)
• Firewood (posted Dec. 2, 2012)
• Missing man formation (posted Oct. 18, 2012)
• In the middle of the bay (posted Oct. 3, 2012)