Spring is bursting into bloom. It’s my favourite season: fresh life emerges, colour and warmth blossom, and delightful discoveries await. This year, however, a touch of melancholy crept into my spring-time cheer; another season had passed and my body confirmed it. My muscles ached from pulling weeds. My joints protested the long hours kneeling in the garden. When I stood up, my spine creaked in disapproval. When did I get so old? I’d noticed other signs of aging recently, too. Even my brain had slowed down. Nothing marks the passage of time so much as realizing that the infant you taught to speak has grown into a teenager, who must now teach you to use your newfangled cellphone. Sigh.
My physical deterioration hindered the war I was waging in the garden bed against the encroaching lawn. I was having a difficult battle, jabbing my garden trowel into the dirt, sifting the soil through stiff fingers, rescuing precious bulbs from the choking grasp of creeping grass roots. “Take that you nasty grass!” I declared, flinging a root away to roast in the sun. “Poor little earthworm; so sorry to disturb you,” I murmured, placing the wiggler gently on a mound of sifted soil. Hmm, could this conversation with non-verbal life-forms be further evidence of the decline of my mental abilities?
Then an unfamiliar birdsong caught my attention. I scanned the treetops in vain for the source of this chirpy melody. However, it was soon drowned out by the roar of a chainsaw in the hands of my beavering husband. Initially vexed by this mechanical intrusion into Nature’s chorus, upon reflection, I realized the benefit. I am always somewhat uneasy when seated with my back to the forest. Some primordial alarm goes off in my head, warning of potential danger. Perhaps my husband’s violent activity would scare any large carnivorous beasts that might mistake my crouching form for lunch. I resumed my crusade against the grass, its long blades brushing my elbows as I thrust my trowel into the turf. Off in the distance, the chainsaw shuddered to a halt and I could again hear Nature’s song. Bees droned in the honeysuckle blooms a few feet away. Overhead, leaves rustled in the breeze. Suddenly, a different noise exploded close-by:
I jumped. What in the world?! I’d heard that before. I searched my memory. An image popped into my mind. We had recently watched the Spring episode of “The Wild Canadian Year,” an amazing series about the wildlife and various environments across our vast country. There had been a sequence on the habits of rattlesnakes, who burrow underground and give birth to live offspring. Had I disturbed a rattlesnake with my digging? I froze and held my breath. OK, now, stay calm. What did I recall about the poisonous snakes? Didn’t they live where it was hot and dry? There were some nesting in the bare and sunny cliffs in Fish Creek Provincial Park, I knew. That’s a very different environment than this forested and shady ridge-line, I thought, trying to reassure myself. I strained to detect any movement close at hand.
Nothing. No sign of reptilian activity. I exhaled slowly. The noise did not reoccur. That didn’t fit my idea of a rattler. Wouldn’t it give more than one warning? Wouldn’t the grass have swayed as it slithered away? The sound hadn’t quite been right, either, had it? It had been nearby, loud, but muffled, almost ghostly. I struggled to call to mind the exact tone and cadence and couldn’t quite do it. It was not anything I had ever heard in the garden before. Had I taken leave of my senses?? Was I suffering from heat-stroke? I picked up my water bottle and gulped the liquid.
I retrieved my trowel and continued to dig. I focussed on the green spikes in the earth, analyzing the shape and width, to discern the grass blade masquerading as a sprouting hyacinth bulb. The battle raged on and the hours passed. I forgot all about my brush with insanity.
That evening, I was stretched out on the couch, typing on my laptop. Out of the blue, my creative endeavour was shattered by an abrupt
OK. Now I was really losing it. Clearly, there was no rattlesnake in the house. I had not imagined the noise, either. It was identical to the one I had heard earlier. What could possibly have caused it? I glanced around in confusion. Was it something electronic – to do with my computer? No, wait, what about my new cellphone sitting on the table? I picked it up and saw a notice on the screen. I had a text message. Yes, I’d had my phone in my pocket while gardening. Of course! Now I remembered. While my son was setting up my phone, I’d chosen as my text notification the funky tune from the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
This article was originally printed in the BERGEN NEWS and is being reprinted with permission.