Wildflower Man

wildflower-man-2The man who carried himself older than his years, boulders weighing down his shoulders, adjusted his glasses and harrumphed.

“Meeting will come to order,” he said. “Here about the complaint regarding Sam Tucker’s lawn. Mr. Tucker present?”

A bearded man who should have combed his hair that morning raised his hand. “Here, your honor.”

The man in the glasses allowed a slight smile. “Not a court of law, Mr. Tucker, no need for ‘your honor.’ I’m Jim Fredricks, alderman of the 15th district and I chair this committee. Jim’s just fine. Now, is the complainant — “

“Sam, then.”

“Eh?”

“Just Sam’s fine. Mr. Tucker was my father.” Sam Tucker ran a nervous hand through his hair and discovered suddenly about the need for a comb.

“All right, Sam. Now is Hank Johnson here?”

“I am indeed. Right here.” The scowling man with the deep booming voice was the only man in the front row, three folding chairs down from Sam Tucker. It had been pretty clear that was probably Hank Johnson.

“OK, you first, Mr. Johnson. What’s the problem?”

“Well, anyone who drives through our neighborhood knows what the problem is. It’s Sam Tucker’s yard! He doesn’t mow the lawn, there are weeds and flowers everywhere. A little boy or girl could get lost in there!”

“Wouldn’t that be enchanting?” Sam Tucker chimed in.

“You’ll have your chance, Sam. Let Mr. Johnson have his say.”

“Sorry.”

“Well,” Hank Johnson restarted, “we have talked to Sam, we have presented petitions, to no avail. He doesn’t listen. We must have the city council do something about it.” He picked up a small brochure. “Now, this material from the parks and forestry department says the city can cut an offending lawn and then charge back the cost to the homeowner. That’s what we’re all here asking. Here’s a copy of the petition Mr. Tucker ignored. You’ll see that it has 27 signatures, all from the neighborhood.”

Jim Fredricks balanced his glasses on the end of his nose and peered down at the paper. “I see. You done?”

“Well, that’s the gist, unless there are any questions.”

Fredricks looked up and down his table. “Committee?”

A long pause, and then a woman at the end said, “I think I’d like to hear what Mr. Tucker has to say for himself first.”

“All right. Your ball, Sam.”

Sam Tucker ran a hand through his hair one more time and leaned forward, elbows on knees, beard nestled on folded hands. “I’m not sure where to start.” A patient wait. “When was the last time anyone here saw a meadow?”

Another patient wait.

“No, that’s not what I want to say. Not what I want to say at all. It’s just that I remember walking through a meadow between the Methodist church and the houses on the corner, and yellow flowers high as my chest, and pussy willows and running from great big bumblebees.”

“There’s no meadow next to the Methodist church. You mean where the Meadow View Apartments are?” from a committee member.

“Yes, exactly, and you make my point,” said Sam Tucker. “There are no more meadows in this town, nowhere for a little boy or girl to get lost in. I passed a display in Walmart a couple of years ago and saw packets of wildflower seed. I bought some, I liked the pictures. I planted all of the seeds and they only covered a corner of my backyard. So I went back and bought some more. Before long I had a meadow. The rest you know.”

There was a pause long enough for Alderman Jim Fredricks to insert, “Finished?”

Sam’s eyes had glazed slightly, but the word sharpened them again. “No, not quite. I drive up and down the streets and I see carefully cultivated yards, large expanses of short green grass and kept short on purpose. Trees planted just so, surrounded by little gardens marked by carefully placed rocks. There’s an occasional flower garden, but they hug against the houses as if they’re hiding. Then I drive thirty miles to the nature preserve outside Appleton. You know the one, a rich old guy donated it.

“There’s no rhyme or reason to it at all. The grasses grow as tall as they want, the trees are free to grow where the seeds fall, get as tall as they want until they fall over in the wind with old age. The rocks sit where the glacier left ‘em at the end of the last ice age. It’s as wild and disorganized as I figure God meant things to grow, and you know what? The birds and the deer and the squirrels seem to love the place. I do, too, and I didn’t want to have to drive thirty miles every time I need peace.

“Now, it seems to me that our land says something about who we are. My neighbors, they like to have a little control. Lord knows it’s hard enough sharing a planet with a few billion folks all of their own mind — you never know when someone’s going to pull in front of you and smash your car, if the boss is going to decide he can get by with five fewer workers and you’re one of the expendables, if the kids are going to try some sort of experiment with their minds or bodies. Nothing says when you get up in the morning whether you’ll live to see lunch. So my neighbors tend to their lawns, because they know they have absolute power over how high the grass grows, and which weeds live or die.

“Well, I walk through that nature preserve and I see God built these flowers and trees and even the weeds to live free. And I see the beauty in all different kinds of plants and animals getting along, and the lines are mostly random but there’s a rhythm to it all. And I see how much more beautiful it is just to let life happen. So I plant my wildflower seeds and relinquish control. I give ‘em a little water and wake up every morning to see what surprises they have for me. Have the little blue ones blossomed, and how tall are those pretty white things going to grow? I don’t even bother to learn their names. I walked out last August and there had been a sudden explosion of orange flowers overnight, and I just laughed all that day.

“I guess the bottom line is, I can’t control the forces of the universe. It’s a losing battle. Even the best grass grows high enough to make my neighbors nervous, so they cut it, but as soon as they go away for awhile, it just grows to its heart’s desire. So why not let it and love it for what it is? The best miracles happen when you stop trying to force things into line.”

Sam Tucker stopped for a breath and looked into the eyes of Alderman Chairman Jim Fredricks, who looked away. “Am I the only one left in the world who thinks dandelions are the most gorgeous flowers on Earth?” Tucker said.

Hank Johnson had been squirming in his folding chair long enough, and now he had to bubble over. “You see what we have to put up with? The man’s a lunatic!”

Alderman Jim Fredricks looked blankly at Johnson, then swiveled his head back to Sam Tucker. “OK, Mr. Tucker, let’s get to the point. Any reason why we shouldn’t have the boys come in and cut your grass for you?”

It was Sam Tucker’s turn for a blank stare. “But I’ve been telling you all the reasons.”

The chairman picked up the petition weightily and peered over his glasses at Sam Tucker. “You’ve been telling us why you let everything grow, but now your neighbors are saying it’s time to cut it down.”

“Maybe it’s time for them to let everything grow!” Sam said. “I was hoping I could have this forum to convince them to grow their own meadows.”

“How many people still want Sam to cut his lawn?” Alderman Jim Fredricks asked. Under Hank Johnson’s scowl, every one of Sam’s neighbors raised their hands, some a little more slowly than others. “Anyone want to take their names off the petition?” A short pause. “All right, then, I guess we’re ready for a motion.”

“Move to give Mr. Tucker five days to cut his lawn before the city does it and charges him back,” came a sharp voice.

“Second,” came another.

“Any discussion?” said Jim Fredricks.

The alderwoman in the corner: “Is there any chance we could let Mr. Tucker keep the flowers in his back yard? The neighbors only seem unhappy about the street view.”

Hank Johnson looked around the room. A few shoulders shrugged, a few heads nodded. “I don’t think we see any harm in that. His back yard’s fenced in. Wooden fence. No one would see it, he could grow whatever he wants back there.”

“Fenced in,” Sam Tucker said mournfully. “Don’t you see? Didn’t anyone listen?”

“Ready for the motion, then. All those in favor — “

“I won’t pay the bill. I won’t let you do this thing and then charge me for it.”

“It’ll be added to next year’s property tax bill, then,” said Alderman Chairman Jim Fredricks. “All those in favor say aye.”

Four of the five committee members said aye.

“Opposed.”

The alderwoman in the corner said, “Nay.” Sam Tucker met her eyes gratefully.

“Motion passes,” intoned the chairman. “Cut your lawn and avoid the charge, Mr. Tucker.”

“I shall not.”

“Suit yourself. I’ll take a motion to adjourn.”

Shortly after dawn on the sixth day, Sam Tucker went for a long walk, so long that he was away until nearly sunset. When he returned, the plant life had been shorn to the same length as the grass in surrounding yards, and the long grasses, stems and flowers had been hauled to curbside for later removal. Sam sat down in the carnage, picked up the remains of an orange flower, and began to weep.

The mowers had to return twice more that summer, for Sam Tucker still let everything grow as it pleased. There was no further talk around the town, but the following spring, three more meadows erupted in the neighborhood.

© 1996 Warren Bluhm
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WarrenBluhm

Wordsmith, journalist and podcaster, Warren is a reporter, editor and storyteller who lives near the shores of Green Bay with his wife, two golden retrievers, and a couple of cats.