lundi 12 octobre 2009

Oh! Shit

The offending shoes

I awoke to sun. Bright sunlight in the slats of the dark metal shutters, drawn since I began reading Anaïs Nin's diary up in my room. It was tempting to open them and let the sunshine, gone since the period of the birthdays, into my room; go out and do the things better done in sunlight than in rain, impossible in the driving rain we had, dismal in the drizzling rain we have more recently had.

Saturday, I spent the afternoon trimming ivy. I received a request from our gentle neighbor, the man responsible for the maintenance of all of France Telecom's buildings in the region. Sometimes I alert him to a problem, like the forest growing in their gutters (complete with forest floor) and destroying the masonry walls; sometimes he reminds me, kindly, politely, that it is time to trim the ivy. I knew. I had been watching it creep up to the new zinc flashing they installed at my suggestion, after the built-in gutters turned into Sherwood Forest. The problem was the workers' materials and crap all over the place, cast against the shrubs alongside that wall. They finally rid us of the better part of it, and I could put the ladder up again.

Pruning ivy is a choking activity. The dust, the leaf mold and the cobwebs that form in it cling to the inside of the mouth, the nose and the throat, suffocating you. Up the extension ladder I go, to the top of the wall, long and short pruning sheers in hand, ripping at what I can, picking shoots from between the zinc and the plywood behind it. I have respect for the work they did. Once I get started with pruning sheers, though... just try to stop me. I only needed to do the building, but there was the overgrown ivy along our garden wall just beside it. I'd have to take the ladder around behind France Telecom's building, to the place where I take the dogs to poo, hoping they will do so there, and there only.

The little space behind is full of piles of dog doo. I only collect it once I feel deep and abiding guilt for soiling a place that, while it belongs to no one really, and is frequented only by me, my dogs, the kids waiting for the bus, and the garden service people employed by the man from France Telecom to conquer the weeds my dogs' pee fertilizes copiously (although I suspect that the old lady with three teeth relieves herself there, and not just number 1), I still feel a sense of civic obligation to pick up after my dogs, even when the poo eventually dries and joins the soil. It would have been so easy. All I had to do was clean it up before I started tromping around, piling up the massive quantities of ivy and Barberry bush I cut.

I slipped. It was that way of slipping that is caused by one thing only: slick dog poo all along the underside of your shoe. I didn't need to look.

I could have cleaned it up, right along with all those piles unstepped in as yet. I did not.

I slipped again. Turning, feeling surrounded by piles of poo, I stepped on a branch of Barberry I had just cut. The thorns are so long and strong that they make for a natural predator for trespassers. In fact, had Dante given any thought to trespassers, he'd have surely made a level of hell ringed by Berberis vulgaris just for them. The thorns pierced the bottom of my running shoes, the ones I wear to the gym with its sign reading "Gym shoes worn indoors only, please".

Now, I had a running shoe sole covered with smeared dog doo and stuck with a 50 cm long branch of thorned European Barberry bush. I was entirely surrounded with Barberry cuttings and piles of poo. It began to drizzle. Audouin's router hummed in the background on the other side of the wall. My pile of cuttings smoked pitifully in the wet next to me. I had what is referred to as a dilemma: if I used my still clean and free right sneakered foot to step on the end of the branch sticking out from in front of my left toe and apply pressure to pry the left sneakered foot off the thorns, I risked having a dog shit covered Barberry branch embedded in my right sneaker. The alternative -- reaching down and pulling it off with my ungloved hand -- wasn't more attractive. So, avoiding the piles of dog doo and Barberry cuttings as best I could, I made my way to the concrete walk against the wall, stepped my right foot gingerly onto the very tip of the Barberry branch and rocked my weight to my left heel, levering my foot off the branch.

It worked. I was free. I could clean up the dog shit and get back to work. Or, I could just get back to work.

Hey, my sneakers were already covered with dog shit, and the pull of the weight of the pruning sheers in my right hand was too strong. I am like an addict. I had to cut, and then try to burn what I had cut.

Yesterday, I changed shoes at least before starting again.

Today, I put those Dr. Scholl's Birkenstock wannabe's on -- easy to buy here in our local pharmacie; this shames Sam for me -- and headed out to cut a little more. My heart wasn't in it. My mind was on Nin and the industriousness of the summer had passed, giving way to the reveries of autumn. I did not like the damp. Restless, I came inside, perched on the end of the sofa to see what was happening in the world of sports. I smelled -- euw, what was that? Understanding came with memory.

Dog shit.

Oh! Shit.

While not specifically about the European Barberry Bush, with it's yellow flowers in Spring and orange fruit in fall, Paghat's bit on the "gawdam barberries", the aureas and altropurpureams, in their garden largely applies.

The Barberry Bush

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The bush that has most briers and bitter fruit,
Wait till the frost has turned its green leaves red,
Its sweetened berries will they palate suit,
And thou may'st find e'en there a homely bread.
Upon the hills of Salem scattered wide,
Their yellow blossoms gain the eye in Spring;
And straggling e'en upon the turnpike's side,
Their ripened branches to your hand they bring,
I've plucked them oft in boyhood's early hour,
That then I gave such name, and thought it true;
But now I know that other fruit as sour
Grows on what now thou callest Me and You;
Yet, wilt thou wait the autumn that I see,
Will sweeter taste than these red berries be.
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