I raised the machete high in the air above my head, and without a second thought, brought down the sharp blade on the stalk of the plantain tree to free the bountiful cluster of fruit.
I missed — and the machete flew out of my hands.
In that one second we sometimes get to change an outcome, I jumped out of its way, living with extraordinary clarity the brief span of time that separates life from death, wellness from injury, wisdom from insanity.
After the machete landed safely with a thud on the ground, I could hear my father and gardening mentor laughing in Spanish from Heaven: “Amateur, amateur!”
I learned that next time I wrestle with Mother Nature, I need to bring a ladder so I can at least be at eye level.
Or pick the fruit from the tree daily. It’s a sweet chore, and I get to share the bounty with birds and other creatures — possums, lizards, wandering cats, and ant colonies in search of delicacies in the midst of our thickening urbanity.
But still, I am an amateur.
Since I started taking care of my green space two years ago after my father died — my way of trying to hold on to one of the things we shared and I treasured — there’s only been one word to describe the look of my yard and my efforts: hardscrabble.
The weeds won the war.
What I sprinkled on to kill them, made them grow.
Weeds proliferate like Florida’s bad gun laws.
The only thing you can predict is that there will be more of both to come. Making the rounds in the Florida Legislature are these proposals: teachers and administrators packing heat; kids getting away with pointing make-believe guns in school; tax collectors handling weapons’ permits like car tags; insurance companies forbidden from charging more to gun owners, although they can and do for certain dog breeds.
I need new grass.
Florida needs new governance.
Despite the dollar weed and carpet grass, however, it’s not all bad news in the garden.
The Tree of Gold (also known as Caribbean Trumpet Tree) the developer threw in with the house and the multicolored bougainvillea my father planted along the back fence are glorious. Not that I can take any credit other than saving them from people like my former hired gardener who wanted to annihilate them. These sturdy beauties thrive in Florida weather with other herbaceous wonders that require little maintenance, at least from my point of view.
My father was a fan of taming living things. I enjoy the wild view. How else can one observe the genuine process of growth and change?
I can’t offer an expert opinion on climate change, for example, but I can say that my Tree of Gold used to shed all of its green leaves before it burst into pregnant clusters of yellow flowers on bare branches.
This warm winter left most of the leaves.
My father and I once had a heated argument when I arrived at his house and found him mercilessly whacking away at his beautiful hibiscus hedge. The only thing he was right about was that it was his hibiscus to trim.
And so I stand by my machete.
I may be an amateur, but I wield an instrument sharpened by my father. Only that I’ve now learned from experience how to use it wisely.