my father's yard

Wild things grow in my father's yard.

Things lush in texture, riotous in color. Things unnamed and unknown to him. He couldn't tell you the species or genus of the plants, the trees, or the flowers that bloom outside his windows, or how best to care for them. But bloom they do, because in spite of his inattention they've managed to get what they need to survive. Sunlight. Soil. Water.

Which is not to say they couldn't do with a little help. Some pruning, some pollarding to clear the way for new growth.

If he brushed away the fallen, dried leaves that crunch in clusters along the walkway, it would be easier to reach his front door. If he tended to the weeds that threaten to choke the more delicate flowers, he could better see their blossoms. But he doesn't think to do it, and they live on in pretty, if precarious, complacence.

If he watered the roots of the tree that dominates the very center of his yard, it might bear fruit. But though its bark is brittle, its limbs are sturdy enough for anyone wishing to climb them.

Unsupervised, unmanaged and unchallenged, these growing things have become defiant, unruly. They thicken and thrive with a tenacity that their well-watched cousins in other yards needn't have.

Wild things live in my father's yard. He protects them, from a distance.

A duck has taken refuge against the west wall, under the spare bedroom window. She must feel safe, nearly shrouded from view behind fronds the size of dinner plates. Her white face, red rimmed eyes, and green-black body are exotic, and they captivate me. But when I try to creep closer to examine her nest, to look for eggs and take pictures, I am scolded and shooed away. Just leave her be, my father says. She aint bothering anybody. The duck has a frantic look about her. She meets my intruding gaze head on, and I have the feeling that even one step closer would move her to aggression.

My father doesn't seem to mind the downy white feathers that litter the landscaping and stick to his doormat. In fact, I suspect he takes a certain pride in the fact that she chose his yard to make her home, of the dozens that line his quiet street. At night I can hear her plaintive cry, and I wonder what need she's communicating. My father, on the other side of the house, sleeps through her call.

When, months ago, a kingsnake took up temporary residence in the lanai, my father chose retreat over confrontation. Rather than try and run the snake off or have it professionally removed, he recused himself and declared the patio off limits until the snake was done with it. He'll go when he's ready. He got in there; he can get back out.

Around the yard is a tall wooden fence, long since sun-bleached of whatever rich brown color it once must have boasted. It's dry and splintered, and while the grooves in the grain draw my eye in, I know better than to run my fingers down them. Rusty nails and jagged knots poke from it in irregular intervals. The fence was there when he moved into this house years ago, and he never so much as weatherproofed it.

But it keeps his yard safe enough.

My father doesn't spend a lot of time in his yard, or, I imagine, thinking about it. Inside, his house is a testament to his own interests, carefully curated with the furniture, the curios, and the decorating touches it took him decades to collect and perfect. But the things that grow and bloom and drop and die beyond his immediate sight don't trouble him much. When I show him close-up pictures I've taken, showcasing the glorious pinks and reds and purples of the wild things that flourish, right under his nose, he nods dismissively. He's unimpressed.

The wild things will keep growing, anyway. They'll keep coming to his yard for shelter, shade, and safety. And he'll help them find it, in his way.