Being middle-aged takes many forms. You find yourself becoming like cake batter, all mixed up and lumpy. Out of nowhere, it seems, the horniest thing about you is your feet. If you’re male and live near me, you also get an overwhelming urge to defoliate your property.
My neighbor two doors down started it. Ever since he hit forty a few years back, he’s made a tradition of clear-cutting his mature foundation plants--- rhodys, mugos, cherry and ash trees. During that span he’s also lost all his birches to borers. Now his house sits like an oil rig in a half-acre sea of lawn. An ardent linksman, he practically has his own driving range.
The swain next to him followed suit, replacing all his established flowering shrubs with container specimens, as did my neighbor across the street. So long, Benjamin Moore paint commercial; hello, Parcheesi board. Last but not least, two gents bookending us felled large pine trees in their front yards, not even bothering to grass over the areas, which lie barren except for wood chips.
I feel like our street should be renamed Weyerhauser.
It should be mentioned that none of the offending flora was diseased, dying, defunct, clogging gutters, prying shingles loose, or sending roots up the basement commode. This being white bread suburbia, no unscheduled jewelry appraisers were likely to camp out in the chamaecyparis. And as many of the plants were low-maintenance evergreens, spending Sunday afternoons pruning instead of at the fifty yard line wasn’t a factor.
I’ve run into this culling mentality before, in an inner-ring neighborhood. People moving into it from the city generally did the following before their furniture was even off the truck: 1) buy a dog with the temperament of Fluffy in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; 2) hack down their shrubbery, which was then given to Fluffy for toothpicks. Long-time residents sarcastically attributed this urbanizing to wanting to bring property values in line with the ‘hood’s.
Whatever their degree of paranoia about break-ins and horticulture, the newly gentrified were, in a sense, bringing their environment with them. You may not be able to go home again, but you sure as hell can bring the old neighborhood with you. Which is what my lumberjack neighbors may be trying to do as well.
All these guys hail from communities with gumdrop landscaping and houses so close together that farting is an accepted way of letting neighbors know what you ate for dinner. Where everyone sits in lawn chairs in their garage kibitzing with grannies strollering tykes and car buffs tinkering with their ‘Cudas. No hedges impede conversation, no gracefully branching yews obstruct observation of the meter reader. So it stands to reason that Tim and Dan and Mike and Tony and Joel may be pining for the open confines of their youth by knocking over some pines (hopefully forgoing the urge to stay in touch gastrically).
They may also, in distinctly male fashion, be keeping the years at bay. Men seek empowerment differently than women. Women having a bad day or lousy life recreate themselves. They get a new do, or a mani-pedi, or Botox, or a new bra, or a degree in Sephardic studies, or beget children. Men change their environment. They hunt and fish, start wars, carve mountains. Especially in mid-life. Gutzon Borglum was close to sixty when he started work on Mt. Rushmore (back then you didn’t wait ten years for a permit to put up a storage barn).
The balding bubbas in my neighborhood are, I suspect, finding a natural correlative for all that thinning thatch on their heads. It’s their way of externalizing life’s inevitable pruning of their options, of keeping the horizon in view even as their eyes go bad.
Sound far-fetched? Well, I see the lawn chairs popping up in their garages like so many daisies, with now-clear sightlines to the street. And, being in their age group, I’ve likewise felt the urge, when the jungle starts closing in, to take a machete to it.
Even Tarzan must have felt that way at times.