We decided this year to forgo our normal Independence Day routine of barbecue, family, and fireworks. I love all those things, especially fireworks, but just didn’t feel up to facing the crowds. We’ve been busy all month and haven’t had a whole lot of time alone with just the four of us. And, anyway, our yard needed a whole lot of work. So what better way to celebrate the 4th of July than working outside all day in scorching heat among the thorns, thistles, and briars of our neglected back yard?
The home we bought this year was once lovely, but more recently endured several years of foreclosure, abandonment, bank ownership, and even squatters. Not surprisingly, nobody watered the lawn or trimmed the trees during those years, and you can tell. Almost everything is dead, much of it irreparably so.
We’ve spent a lot more time in the front yard so far, since that’s the one that people see when they drive by and judge us. But we’re also impatient to get the back yard fixed.
I wish I could work up some artist rendering so that you could see what it will be like in a few years. Just imagine a paradise with fruit trees, shaded sitting areas, raspberry brambles, a flower garden, a vegetable garden, a pristine swimming pool, and scores of resident butterflies, quail, squirrels, and finches. Plus even a few red-tailed hawks by day and bats by night. That’s how I see it in my mind’s eye. But when I actually look at it, it looks like this:
The pool is filled with three feet of green slime incubating under a patchwork cover and no fence. Even if the pipes aren’t burst—and they very likely are—it’s still going to take a lot of money and time to get the pool running again. Until then, it’s just an insect hatchery.
Of the three tall trees, two are more dead than alive and all three are horribly misshapen. Their dead limbs house a mighty army of earwigs who mount daily attacks on our home. And while the apple tree seems salvageable, it wasn’t trained well during its youth and will never be shaped as beautifully as those trees I remember from the central Utah orchards of my youth.
Wendy and I were born in 1976, during the bicentennial celebrations of the United States. I have always enjoyed reading the LDS General Conference talks given and Ensign articles published from that year. One common theme back then that I don’t see as much of these days was the emphasis around keeping up a vegetable garden and a well-maintained yard. When President Spencer Kimball opened the October 1976 General Conference, this was his very first doctrinal topic: “Our pride is great in the people who have listened and who have planted gardens and orchards and trees in the past months. From all directions we hear of gardens which have made an outstanding contribution.”
Later that day, Ezra Benson revisited that topic. He speculated that if the Founding Fathers and Utah Pioneers could assemble and give collective advice to our generation on the bicentennial year, it would include: preserving our freedoms, strengthening our families, maintaining our faith, and recognizing the dignity of work and self-sufficiency. To this last point, he reiterated the sentiment shared by Brigham Young: “Beautify your gardens, your houses, your farms; beautify the city. This will make us happy, and produce plenty.”
As we came up on this year’s Independence Day, this is exactly the kind of patriotism we were feeling. We felt like the best way to honor our heritage was to clean up our own back yard. So, despite the insane heat, we got dressed up in our grubby clothes, collected our tools and got to work.
I wore the most functional outfit I could think of: black running pants, a gray tank top, leather gloves, a black bandanna tied around my head, and safety goggles. I looked ridiculous. Isaac said that I looked “like a biker.” Olivia suggested, more accurately, that I looked more like “a dad pretending to be a biker.” Sensing that I was getting frustrated by the attention, Wendy tried to call the kids off and defend my outfit, but then she ended up laughing so hard at my appearance that she was doubled over and crying.
Needless to say, not a lot of photos will survive from the day. Just this one where the tree obstructs most of the view of my awesome look.
By the end of the day, we were sweaty and dirty and happy. We drove to the nearest swimming pool to cool off for 30 minutes and then came home to eat gobs of candy and watch a movie together.
Looking at the yard today, it seems like we barely made a dent. If anything, it looks worse instead of better. It’s a great reminder that this is a long-term project. It will be several years before I enjoy the 4th of July swimming in my clear pool and surrounded by green grass, fragrant fruit trees, and chirping birds.
But even when the day finally comes, I won’t be any happier than I was this year. Sometimes it really is more about the journey than the destination.