The Land of Mulch and Honey
By Honey van Blossom
(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste)
The side yard to my house in Conquered was hard dry soil and two bushes, one of them with inedible orange berries. A wood fence faces the street, which was overgrown with two-foot tall weeds. Last winter, I planted a baby Pluot, a little pear, and an apple tree in the side yard. The Pluot is not self-pollinating. If a neighbor does not have a Santa Rosa plum, I’m going to have to buy one.
Spanish missionaries brought the European plum to California. Luther Burbank bred the Santa Rosa plum from the Japanese plum. In 1885, he imported 12 plum seeds from Japan.
Without bees, the wind pollinates a little but not enough. In agricultural areas in California, farmers have to bring in bees because pesticides kill them off. Fortunately, bees have so far survived in the cities.
My youngest grandchild wants me to get chickens. He wants me to build a chicken coop. He planted broccoli, beans and corn. He agreed to eat the corn. The corn crop grew beautifully but I only got two ears of it because of the birds that got it first. I hung a giant cloth parrot over the fence. It wobbles in the wind and scares off birds. Nothing scares off gophers but mine may be blind because they missed the vegetables.
Five feral cats frequent my backyard, completely my fault, because I saw one, and he was so pathetic I fed him. The rest may not have been feral. I hear my neighbors calling, “Stinky!” and “Fluffy!” for hours. The cats may prefer Trader Joe cat food to whatever Stinky’s and Fluffy’s people feed them because the cats now live in my yard, as does a very ugly animal. He may be an opossum. He had its snout in the cat food. I screamed. He pretended he was dead. I didn’t believe him.
In the spring, the air was full of bird song, and so far, none of the feral cats has caught one. (I know this because all the cats I’ve ever had some possessory interest in have brought me gifts of dead things.) I have mixed feelings about the cat and bird algorithm because birds have no sphincters. The birds shit all over everything. Until I layered the backyard with wood chips and pinecones, the cats shat all over everything else and the smell of cat piss scented the air.
Hours passed as I weeded in the spring light, which is like light is near the ocean. In one section, I planted nasturtiums primarily because I love them but also because they kill everything in their path and I hoped they will supersede the weeds. You can eat nasturtiums but probably not with cat piss and bird shit on them. They may have died.
The Ceanothus – the California lilac – bloomed narcotic blue until summer, when I realized even the native plants I bought sizzled and drifted towards death.
In the winter, a bush on the other side of the yard endured. It had been there forever, some relic from the time when the first owners of this house (1956) cared. Suddenly in March it bloomed with glorious coral blossoms that I had not seen anywhere since I lived in Istanbul, but there, the blossoms were on trees. I looked on Internet but did not find out the name for the wonderful bush until this summer, when I reached in with my pruning shears and they came back with a wizened apple-like hard fruit, and then I knew: it is quince.
Along roadsides in Contra Costa County, grown up pear trees blossomed this spring, white candles against the vibrant green hills, over which sheep and cows still walk, and the California Redbud trees were poofs of raspberry breath. The air smelled like brine.
The Spanish founded mission settlements approximately 30 miles apart so that they were separated by one day’s journey on horseback along the Mission Trail. The padres spread mustard seed along the sides of the trail to mark it. Yellow mustard flowers in flat areas.
A redwood deck surrounds the enormous mulberry tree. It took me three days to scrub a decade’s dirt from it. I had unpleasant disagreements with paint store employees — insofar as it was possible to disagree with people who stare at the ceiling and pretend I’m not there — and ended up with what was supposed to be transparent stain but which is not transparent. I had intended the deck to be transparent blue. It is gray. It is opaque.
My neighbor across the street is a janitor for BART. She is a strong woman. Her husband is disabled, so she is used to lifting. She helped me haul a couch I got at Good Will for $25 into the backyard to put on the opaque gray deck. I gave her part of my cucumber crop and cilantro and parsley. She was a cook before she was a janitor. She told me she worked at hard labor most of her life and made just enough to live on.
The cucumbers from a garden gave her salads for weeks.
My son-in-law said that if he had only known I was willing to live outside, we could have come to a different arrangement to get me to live in Conquered.
The Rainbow Church of Living Light people helped with the first stage of killing the front lawn, which, as the man I used to pay to mow it said, “Not a big loss there. It’s all weeds.”
I drove on the 24 through the tunnel to Oakland, down near where the produce market was and may still be. People all around, just like in a real city. I bought rolls of cardboard and drove them down Telegraph until it became Broadway until it became the freeway and Reverend Julia drove down from Middletown and laid down the cardboard on my enormous plot of weeds in front of the house.
A tree trimming company agreed to give me wood chips. I was going to get mulch, too, at $40 a cubic yard, but the lawn mowing man said, “Chips are mulch,” a clarification that eased my mind considerably because no one I had asked previously knew the difference between “chips” and “mulch.” “Chips” are a subcategory of “mulch.” Mulch is anything, yard waste, coffee grounds, compost, or “chips.”
The tree trimmers’ truck arrived and the workers deposited 7 cubic yards of golden oak and redwood chips on my concrete driveway, which is now stained yellow and red. It was a mountain of chips. 7 cubic yards is the volume of a small room. I carried chips for days in buckets. A mysterious neighbor with a very low cut dress and really short skirt came out and helped me. She lives in the house with boarded up windows. She smoked cigarettes as she mulched. Reverend Julia mulched. A thin man appeared also from the house with boarded up windows. He mulched. One day, it was over, but the chip covering was only an inch thick.
The water department guy wrote to me and said I need to mulch another 7 cubic yards, at least.