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Front Porch: Nature is a worthy adversary

A couple of years ago I decided finally to address the pine needles that had been stacking up in my backyard.

We had long since corralled the front yard, herding it into something resembling tameness, but the backyard has remained wild for more than 20 years. We were really quite OK with that for most of our time here (my husband still is), but I suddenly felt it had really gotten a bit overwhelming. Not only were there decades of pine needles, pine cones, fallen branches, leaves and more to deal with, but we had added to nature’s plenty by off-loading from other locations even more needles over the embankment and into the back. Portions of the yard held compressed and dense piles many feet thick.

Sometimes things begin to bother me that had previously not been a problem, and these piles moved from benign background to sudden eyesore. My husband has long abandoned trying to figure out what makes these on-switches initiate, so he just goes with it – especially since I took this particular task on myself and didn’t place it on any honey-do list.

I arranged for Waste Management to deliver a 96-gallon garden waste container and set about my task. The first year was all about making a dent.

So, year one – digging out. Year two – more digging out and a bit of progress into areas not reached the first year. I was diligent in filling up the container weekly, including jumping up and down (figuratively) on the debris so as to get as much crammed in as possible. By the time the season shut down at the beginning of December last year, I saw some semblance of progress.

And now here I am once again faithfully filling up the container, the season having started again the first week of March. But what’s this? I find I am going over the same ground as in years one and two and am probably several weeks away still from getting anywhere close to virgin territory. It’s Sisyphus and the rock all over again.

As I raked and pitchforked the other day, I was reminded of a recent experience. I had the good fortune to spend some time with my oldest son early this spring. He works in Lisbon, and he put together a trip for us through parts of Portugal and several locales in Spain. The best part of it all was spending time with him – and what wonderful places to do that in. While in the south of Spain, we went in to Gibraltar and spent the day there, which included taking the gondola up the face of the Rock of Gibraltar and walking through the nature preserve near the top.

In addition to the gorgeous vistas, there are a number of delightful Barbary macaques monkeys that reside there. As charming as they are, they are thieves. Warnings abound about carefully holding on to possessions, as a monkey is quite likely to snatch anything not firmly gripped on to. We’re in their turf, after all.

While we were there an Australian tourist was getting ready to get back onto the gondola for a ride back down and placed his backpack on the ground so he could put in an unopened bag of crackers he was holding – a nice, bright red bag of crackers. He also placed the crackers down and turned to unzip his backpack. In a flash, a mother monkey zoomed past, snatched up the bag of crackers and was off into the trees – just out of reach in a steep area beyond the gondola boarding platform. All the gentleman from Australia could do was stand and watch Mama Monkey open the bag, eat crackers and feed some to her baby. Finding it quite charming, the rest of us took pictures.

As we boarded the gondola, the operator told us about that particular monkey and other things she has liberated from the unsuspecting. “In matters such as these,” he said, “the monkey always prevails.”

But back to my pine trees, which I dearly love and which live throughout my backyard. I toiled away at my task until snow caused me to put implements down for the winter. Perhaps that was the signal to the trees to swoop in with a fresh batch of needles for me. Well, maybe that’s not quite how it worked, but I do have rake in hand again and am back at the original starting line, again hoping to make progress.

But I now realize that the pine trees and their needles will surely prevail in their own turf and that the backyard will never be truly tamed. They are the monkeys and I am just another hapless Australian tourist.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at Previous columns are available

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