Life at the bottom

My house is at the bottom of a bluff.  The houses of the street to the east are at the top of the bluff.  Looking out the window, I’m guessing that this bluff is about 30 feet high  But, judging by the condition of a Christmas tree that appeared at its bottom, it seems to be about four years high.

The bluff was platted as an alley; but it’s too steep to build on.  Instead it’s a vertical jungle of trees, Himalayan blackberry vines, English ivy and sucker-tree plants.  The neighborhood kids have a trail running thru it.  The overgrown ruin of a brick barbecue crouches in its center like a Mayan pyramid.

In our forty-some years at the bottom of the bluff, I’ve seen it all; bags of used diapers, scrap wood, tree-trimming debris, and of course lots of tires.  I’ve tried speaking to my neighbors at the top of the bluff.  They swear up and down that they never throw anything down the bluff, and point to the last people who owned their house.  Once I caught one of them dumping grass clippings; he claimed he was just building up the edge of his yard.


When our house was new, it stood on raw earth.  The builder had sprinkled wood chips in the front yard.  The back yard was just dirt.  We determined that the dirt was a thin layer of soil on clay.  The way we determined this was that, after a heavy rain, the back yard filled up with water. In addition to our proper share of rainfall, we also got the runoff from the bluff.  Then children would slither down the embankment from their jungle trail and line up along the shore of our pond to get their shoes wet. Once, while my wife was watching, a little girl stumbled into the water.  She gave my wife an exasperated look like “Some boy pushed me!

Worried that the water might back up into our basement, we contacted a landscaper.  He put in a pair of drains, and built an oval patio to divert the water from the house.  He sold us a load of fill.  We spread it out, marked it off into squares, and adjusted each square with a level, until the yard looked like a big drainboard.  Which basically it is.

We talked about clearing the bluff and making a rock-garden.  We could put a gazebo up there and reclaim some of the great ocean-and-mountains view we were missing down in our hollow.  But my wife pointed out that, without the blackberry vines to defend us, our yard would always be full of kids.  Of course, in due time, it was anyway.


dogWe once had a neighbor at the top of the bluff whose dog bayed and howled like a crazy monster.  We thought it was trapped and panicking in the blackberries.  Their thorns are half an inch long.  If you get hooked by a vine, it embraces you like an Iron Maiden.  My wife and I put on gardening gloves and double layers of sweatshirts for armor.  We scrambled up into the jungle to rescue the animal; but we couldn’t find him.

“What are you doing?” our uphill neighbor demanded to know.

“We heard your dog crying.  We’re trying to find him.”

“He’s fine.  He’s up here with me.  He always barks like that.”

Time proved the man right; his dog always barked like that.  Someday, I imagined, he’ll come down here and eat us all up.


When a cable TV company came through our neighborhood, they liberally trimmed the bluff trees in the process of stringing their wiring on the utility poles that line the theoretical alley above our house.  They didn’t trouble to take away their debris.  Then they had the nerve to beat on my door and try to sell me a subscription.

“I’ll think about it.  In the meantime, how about going back up there and hauling out your tree limbs?”

“Oh … erm … that’s a different crew!”


marsI don’t know the proper biological name of the sucker-tree plants.  We call them that because our neighbors to the south used to have a rubbery, alien-looking tree in their back yard.  It had thorns on the undersides of its fronds.  And in late spring it put out swollen purple blossoms that looked like the talking plant in “Little Shop Of Horrors.”

One year, they cut it down.  The part they left underground devised a clever plan; colonize my yard!  Each year since, suckers appear in the grass.  When I dig one up, I find that it’s connected to another, and that one to yet another, by thick underground runners.  If I pull on a runner, It rips up the lawn like the Martian machines in Spielberg’s “War Of The Worlds.”  The bark covering slides off in my hands, revealing a strong, slippery hawser like wet nylon.

I dig up the suckers and rip up all the runner I can.  But I can’t stop them from growing on the bluff.  It, or they, have established a new base up there — a tree much larger than the original that harbors a cold, malevolent plant-brain and network manager.


meteorOne morning, my wife looked out the bedroom window and called me over.  “There’s a meteor in our back yard!”  Without my glasses, it looked like she might be right.  A massive, craggy object lay on the grass at the foot of the bluff.

In the interests of science, I put on my glasses and went down to examine it.  The space object was a heavy mass of slightly porous light-gray material.  Dirt clung to it, and random pebbles stuck out of it.  One side of it was flat and bore a deep, square depression four inches on a side.  It was a most unnatural depression, and I thought it strongly suggested that there was intelligent life somewhere in the galaxy.

We talked about quietly delivering it to the front lawn of an uphill neighbor at midnight.  But instead the meteor accompanied our next load to the transfer station.


Despite the flood-diversion system we built, drowning earthworms still crawl under the patio doors onto the rec-room floor when it rains.

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