Walter Heibesen was only ever at ease when pulling weeds from his flowerbeds. He wasn’t much of a gardener or an outdoor type in general–in fact he’d despised camping ever since he was eight years of age and had fallen into a near full outhouse at a camping ground in Missoula, Montana during summer holidays with his uncle–but Walter felt a strange, unexplored connection to the earth and an enormous, almost spiritual satisfaction pulling invasive plants from his property. The meaner and nastier the weed was, the happier it made Walter. But not for the obvious reason. Upon pulling out the plant, he would inspect its roots and marvel at the intricacies of the system, and at the speed with which the plant grew its subterranean tuber. He respected the choking weeds and their vigorous desire to live and propagate even within the smallest spaces in between boulders in the most arid of climates. He talked to them, cajoled them, and sometimes even apologised for removing them from their nutrient-rich home.
Walter loved crabgrass invasions the most. After removal they left deep holes into the turf, which of course satisfied Walter, but which neighbors mistook for mole tunnels, thus sending unnecessary tremors and panic throughout the neighbourhood association of cross-property-infestation. “Use chocolate or candy,” was among the stranger, un-solicited opinions Walter received one day from a heavy-set Northern belle. “Moles love candy. Especially cotton candy.” The thought of baiting nonexistent underground pests with fluffy, pink spun sugar made Walter smile inside. And at that moment he stopped listening to the woman who spent her days across the street, at 229, planning out her daughter’s Debutante Party at an oversized dining table in front of a gargantuan bay window with the curtains always open, so everyone could see that she was busy with important work. One Saturday afternoon Walter found a Baby Ruth carefully laid out as bait at the mouth of a deeper hole left by the removal of a Digitaria spp.
Pulling crabgrass by hand was Walter Heibesen’s Big Two-Hearted River, even though he’d never read anything by Hemingway. But Walter knew that squatting and kneeling and sweating drops of salty fluid from eccrine and aprocrine glands down into the earth was healing him faster than any chemicals he’d been advised to take twice a day with an eight ounce glass of water and on a full stomach by his ex wife’s psychiatrist.
Twice a year–usually in April and September–he would inadvertently douse himself with poison ivy oils, the source of which he never found, although Walter didn’t really know what poison ivy or poison oak really looked like. Nor was he interested in finding out. The skin irritation he suffered every season became a natural ritual and, at the risk of believing and labeling himself a sadist, he enjoyed the hardship. It went with working the land. It went with healing himself.
As Walter Heibesen became increasingly ill during the summer of his fifty-second year, the neighbourhood association passed covenants which mandated the use of a specific lawn service company, which would heavily discount its products to homeowner members. Now, mostly living inside, Walter developed paralyzing migraine headaches, which left him with severe vertigo. At the end of November he lost sight in his right eye and could no longer formulate any words, although his thinking was clear and logical.
When the moving truck pulled out its side ramp and bridged the gap between the cold, winter asphalt and the hibernating fescue turf of what was once Walter Heibesen’s home, the Northern belle was sat at the dining table in front of the Cyclopean bay window, drapes pulled to the side so everyone could see that the winter cotillion she was planning for a select four couples–one of whom was her daughter and her new beau–was the most important event that year, short of the neighbourhood association Christmas party which was to take place at the Deerborne Country Club, and was to feature a jazz legend diva who was being flown in on everyone’s dime from Harlem, New York.
The woman, having stopped writing with her ball point pen, craned her neck just slightly to try to get a look at the new owners of Walter’s house. But all she saw were the moving men and their crystallizing breath as they panted and lifted pieces of maple and cherry furniture wrapped in dark green blankets. Then, suddenly, she puffed out a quick burst of air in hope that the new owners of Walter Heibesen’s house would comply with the covenants and treat their property in the spring with the appropriate chemicals that were to be supplied at a discount by the TruChem Lawn Care Company.