At some point in time, the hedges, holly bushes, various blooming plants and other miscellaneous flora that form a perimeter around our house transformed from attractive landscaping into the kind of black, impenetrable jungle that Joseph Campbell might write about. I’m not exactly sure when this happened. One minute six years ago, things looked great; I took a moment to look at it last week and Charles Marlow came stumbling out of there drenched in sweat and draped with ivy.
In all honesty, the catalyst to the mere consideration of trimming the verge was a result of our neighbors sprucing up the landscaping around their house. I’m not normally one to keep up with the Joneses, but I also don’t want to have the most blatantly disheveled house on the block. I’m like a mother who refuses to buy her kid new shoes until the old ones separate back down to their basic components, leaving the child standing barefoot among all his covered-foot classmates. When people start to notice my kid because he’s the only one standing around with filthy, bare feet, that’s when we take a trip to Payless.
…wait, what was I talking about again?
Oh yeah, landscaping. As you can imagine, seven or so years of never clipping the bushes, trimming the small trees or slashing away at the other various plants I couldn’t begin to identify resulted in quite a tangled mess. But Mandy and I, being the brave souls that we are, brandished clippers in hand and trimmers gripped in our teeth and dived in with reckless abandon. To even enter this primeval forest, the two us were forced to bury ourselves in a mire of twisting branches and snaking vines, hacking and slashing at everything that stood in our way. Finally, we came across a small clearing in the undergrowth, a space just big enough to begin work in earnest. And so we did.
We were buried in that labyrinth of prehistoric flora for hours … possibly days. Time loses all meaning when you’re in the heart of the jungle. Somehow during the process, Mandy and I became separated. One moment she was clipping a whatchamacallit bush and the next she was gone … sucked down deeper into that dark bramble of death and allergies.
Lost and alone though I was, I decided to focus my efforts on removing the pit of ivy that had somehow developed all along the jungle floor. You know, it has been said that slick ole snake Satan takes a bunch of different forms, that he can shapeshift in order to blend in with a fellow’s surroundings and remain unseen, patiently lurking in the crooks, crannies and crevices until the perfect opportunity to strike. If this is true, I submit that the devil’s plant form is undoubtedly the ivy.
Let’s just go ahead and ignore the fact that ivy is already serpentine. That seems like cheating. Instead, let’s focus on a slightly deeper analogy. On a purely surface level, ivy seems wonderful … those large, lovely green leaves snaking up the side of a home gives that place an air of old southern charm. What they don’t tell you is that all that ivy eventually snakes its way between bricks into foundations, slowly pulling a house apart centimeter by centimeter until it comes crumbling to the ground. It does this subtly, its slow crawl so gradual that you hardly notice it moving at all until it’s too late … you’ve got a ton of plaster, wood and roofing shingles atop your head.
Though it might seem foolish for one man to go toe-to-toe with the devil all by his lonesome, I began to uproot the ivy from the earth one tendril at a time. My meager muscles strained with effort as the serpents clung to the ground, fighting desperately to stay buried. They snaked around my every limb, constricting in an effort to crush my bones and leave me helpless on the forest floor. But I was unrelenting. Driven by the thought of my tiny wife alone in the brush doing battle with all manner of creeping monstrosities, I fought on. After countless hours and endless bloodshed, agony and profuse swearing, I had pulled every last visible strand from its home. My body was wrecked, but I was victorious.
Somehow, Mandy and I came stumbling from the labyrinth simultaneously, as if this chaparral had decided it was finished with us and spit us out. So changed were we by our experiences in that forsaken place that we hardly recognized one another … as if that baneful boscage had somehow twisted our souls in its wicked branches and dug its black roots into our hearts. We went in human but emerged as something else entirely … something dark … sinister.
On the plus side, we now have the kind of well-groomed barren landscape that would be the envy of any respectable homeowner.
(Note: A version of this essay originally appeared in the May 1 edition of The Itawamba County Times in Fulton, Mississippi)