My Realm of Gold

By Robin Chotzinoff

I just finished planting 165 assorted daffodils. It was the largest order of anything I'd ever signed my name to, and I signed it with a flourish, feeling like a member of Congress. This was no ordinary box of daffodils. For one, it showed how practical I've become. The elk around here, who snack on tulips, hyacinths, and crocuses, have a known distaste for daffodils. So part of my meadow will turn gold with daffodils next spring despite the elk.

Second, my meadow is all gold anyway. In other words, I have finally arrived at the right piece of land. A stunning and unusual circumstance. Until recently, I never wanted a permanent home. In another century, and with more testosterone in my system, I would have been a hired explorer on a leaky galleon. Given the modern options, I elected to spend most of my time in transit.

It's perilous to speak of what I now want to spend the rest of my life doing-after all, things could change. I could join the circus; there could be a war; but here it is: I want to stay here and putter on my perfect piece of land. How do I know it's perfect? Well, awareness of its perfection crept up on me. In retrospect, though, I have my criteria. Here they are, in case you're in the market.

The Perfect Piece of Land is:
Big enough to fuel daydreams, which means three acres, to me. When I stare at my land, I see enough of an expanse to support a fantasy of growing purple asparagus, or cut flowers, or entire New England Boiled Dinners, for fun and profit. Or maybe I will build a straw-bale barn to house a small theater for which I will choreograph big production numbers.

Small enough to manage without an ag degree. Three acres is nothing. My plots are weedable. Bugs come here in ones and twos, not infestations. I can walk across the whole thing in five minutes, half asleep. It is just the right size for two dogs to patrol.

Friendly to dogs, children, and strangers. The wooden beam across the gate is splintered and western; the driveway is full of ruts. Thrift shop chairs and a tire swing are accessible from what passes for a lawn. The garden beds were put wherever I felt like digging at the moment, lending the place a kind, disorganized air. I would never want to live on a spread that said: ″Approach, you peons, and admire.″ I prefer: ″Yo, life is good here. Stick around, and we'll blend some margaritas.″

Archaeologically interesting, above and below ground. Last summer, I unearthed a severed plastic giraffe head from the strawberry bed and discovered a long-abandoned rock garden beneath a 20-foot swathe of pine needles. My dogs find other dogs' long-buried bones. My daughter finds half-collapsed tree forts. Signs of prior human occupation make life comforting and interesting, I think. I would like to believe that nature is fascinating in its unaltered state, but I don't. Give me a human relic, a ghost, a memory. Make my home --

Close to the world. My favorite view from the nascent herb garden is not majestic Mount Evans, but the road only 40 feet away. I can hear the neighbors and their ducks, the teenagers driving too fast in borrowed cars, and freelance dogs who roam the neighborhood. Even while working in my garden, I'm nosy. On the other hand, I also need -- Splendid isolation. The gate has a latch. The doors shut nicely. Some of the shrubs and trees are more like underbrush. I can whack through them completely alone. Pretending not to be home is a snap. If I want to scream, and the weather cooperates by sending a noisy gale down from the western mountains, I just go to the southernmost point of my land and have my tantrum in a lonely stand of beetle-killed pine.

When I finish screaming, I notice a wild gaillardia-a hot, orange one-and wonder how it got there. Just above my head, I hear a bird that shrieks like Edith Bunker. What is it? Rusty chicken wire juts from a pile of dead grass. Did chickens once roam here?

I wonder about what I find, and I wonder what else there is. It's all mine, and I will spend a lifetime uncovering it.

Robin Chotzinoff is the author of People with Dirty Hands (Harcourt Brace, 1997).

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