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Nature Talks! (Garbo Listens)


I think I’m speaking the wrong language.

No, no, no, I’m not talking about English. I actually do all right with the mother tongue. Heck, I’m part of the 0.0000023% of Americans who know how to use lie, lay, lain and laid properly, and I know that a squiggly red line under a word I just typed means that I guessed the spelling wrong and that I should keep trying different letters until the squiggles go away.

I’m talking about the language of nature. You know how nature seems to “speak” to some people? At least that’s what those people tell you when they write their self-help books about discovering themselves. For instance: “It wasn’t until we gave up our three-flat in Manhattan and immersed ourselves in our 60 acres of wooded bliss in Connecticut that I truly began to understand the song of the thrush.” Of course, if you have enough money to own a three-flat in Manhattan or 60 wooded acres in Connecticut, you can probably pay to have thrush songs transcribed and sung to you by the cast of “Hamilton.”

When I write my own self-help book, it will probably have a passage that reads, “It wasn’t until I immersed myself in the mulch pile that I truly began to understand the song of the roly poly bug…and I also began to itch terribly.”

The point (which I lost track of in about 1987) is that nature doesn’t seem to go out of its way to communicate with me. Was it something I said?

Inanimate objects do, however, occasionally talk to me. For instance, the other evening I was sitting on the back porch when my neighbor’s clothes dryer spoke up. It said, “How ya doin’? Just wanted to let you know that I’m drying stuff here in the basement next door. Did you notice that they’re using fabric softener? I figured you did. The wind is blowing that way and I’m venting in your direction, so instead of cool evening air, you can suck in fabric softener scent. Some people think it smells nice. Of course, some people think that new car smell is nice, too…just before they pass out from it. Hey, how do you like my rhythm? Fa foom click, fa foom click, fa foom click, fa foom click. Cheers!”

My garage speaks to me, too. It occasionally says, “You know what? Today, for no particular reason, I’m going to open up while you’re away from home. Yup, that’s what I’ll do — just let that big old garage door slide up so anybody who needs an extra lawn mower or a rake or a can of WD-40 can help themselves to yours. Hope you don’t mind! I love seeing your expression when you drive up!”

And when nature does deign to communicate with me, its intentions are often malevolent. Like when the basement door blows open on the coldest day of the decade — minus 19 — and I discover that fact four hours later. “Whoops! My bad! It’s a shame that you were keeping all of those houseplants down there. Did you see that bucket of water? It froze solid! So did everything else! Impressive, huh? Did I tell you it’s going to be 60 degrees tomorrow? Climate change sure is fun, isn’t it?”

I can handle the odd weather anomaly, though I struggle to understand what message is being delivered by events of biblical proportions, such as when the skies open up while I’m addressing a birdie putt and the round is ruined by a shower of spicy tofu scramble.

Taunting is another matter altogether. I tried to dig up some orange daylilies last year. “Duuuude! You really think you’re going to dig us up? Do you know who we are? We’re DAAAAYlilies.” They kept saying it like that: “DAAAAYlilies.” You know, trying to get under my skin. “What you got? A shovel? Hahahahahahahahaha! Lookie here! He has a shovel! Oooooooh! We’re so scared! How about a stick of dynamite? Dig away, pal! We’ll be back next year! And the year after that. And the year after that. When you and the rest of civilization are nothing but bad memories, you know who’s still going to be here? Cockroaches and Creeping Charlie and mint and bishop’s weed and orange DAAAAYlilies!”

I don’t know about you, but that kind of trash talk hurts my feelings.

Uh-oh. I see storm clouds and I smell bacon bits.

Something’s cooking up there. Gotta grab my dinner plate and run.

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