My friend’s eight-year-old son is writing his first book. It’s called 199 Things To Do In Grass.
I’m inspired! I decide to come up with my own list. This is what I have so far: lie down in it; sit down on it; search for four-leaf clovers; pull some out and try to make a whistle; listen to the wind; watch birds; look for ants; daydream; read.
That’s only nine things to do. Which leaves 190 more to go but I’ve already given up. Because the only thing I really want to do, in grass or anyplace else, is read. No matter how beautiful the scenery, I’m just not all that interested. I could sit in front of the Taj Mahal and be happy, if I had a good book with me. The great wall of China, the Grand Canyon, the Himalayas — ditto.
I’m not a nature girl.
People who know me tend to be kind about this. They don’t ask if I went sky diving or surf boarding on my vacation. They know that wherever I was, indoors (preferably) or outdoors (if circumstances absolutely demanded it), I had my nose in a book. And these days, what with extreme nearsightedness, that expression is more literally true than ever.
But every once in a while I meet somebody new and then it’s possible that a certain awkwardness will follow. A few days ago a friend came to visit and she brought along a friend of hers. I’ll call that new woman Bobby — because that was her name. I introduced Bobby to my cat, Haiku. “Why did you name her that?” she demanded. I admitted that I make attempts at writing haiku. “Do you use nature images?” this Bobby persisted.
What kind of a question is that? I’ll tell you what kind: the rude kind. Reeks of schoolmarmism. Which is fitting because Bobby is a retired high school English teacher. I’d only known this woman for 54 seconds and already she was making me squirm.
“Sometimes I do,” I said, “and sometimes I don’t.”
I was lying. I never use nature images in my haiku. To use a nature image you have to know something about nature. I don’t.
I write about the relentless hiss of the radiator in winter; my fears of the ceiling fan falling down and decapitating me; the ways in which lemons can be so very disappointing.
Once I wrote a haiku about visiting a goldfish pond but I made it all up. For a brief moment I succumbed to internalized haiku pressure and tried to sound like the kind of person who knew about goldfish ponds. I deeply regret the subterfuge.
Yes, I’ll admit my world is somewhat limited. But what is the alternative? Nature is . . . dangerous.
I’m not alone in this conviction. My whole family feels the same way. My cousin Bertie, in Brooklyn, breaks out in hives if she so much as looks at a house plant. And my Aunt Fishy was proud of the fact that she never, in all her life, ate a fresh vegetable.
“Fresh,” in my family lexicon, is not synonymous with healthy. “Frozen, “ “vacuum packed,” “dried,” — those are our safe words.
Last night when I went out onto my front porch to shut the window shades, I heard a persistent peep peep peep peep. I figured it was a bird, singing its little heart out, somewhere in the tree that grows in front of the house.
This morning when I went out on the porch to open the window shades, I heard it again: peep peep peep peep peep.
I claim no knowledge of the natural world, but it seemed odd to me that a bird could sing steadily for ten hours. I looked closely at the tree, squinting at each branch, examining the leaves for motion. I didn’t see a thing. My scientific antennae went on high alert. I began to suspect this sound was not coming from any bird.
Was there some sort of beast trapped in the walls of the house? Or even worse: lurking in a dark, dusty corner, waiting to pounce?
I gathered my courage and made a minute search of the porch. I sniffed. I peered. I got down on my hands and knees and looked under the chair, the table, the book case. Nothing. But still: peep peep peep peep. Peep peep peep.
And then in a flash it came to me. There was only one place where the sound could be coming from: my battery-operated alarm clock. The poor thing had gone berserk. Still, I figured it was relatively harmless, so I picked it up, with only a slight tremor of nerves, and hit it sharply on its head. It immediately stopped peeping.
In the silence I felt an unexpected loneliness. No bird. But on the other hand: no bird! It’s a half-good/half-bad situation, I told myself.
Nature is not for everybody. Obviously, it’s not for me.
199 things to do in grass? I don’t think so.
199 things to do in the bathtub! Now you’re talking.