When Ed Jenkins decided to retire to Florida, he had one goal in mind: finding a house with a beautiful lawn. This was non-negotiable in his mind. After years of condominium living in the big city, he wanted grass. Lovely, velvety, lush green grass. And so he engaged Liz Hall, his realtor, in an extended search for the perfect property. Some had too many trees. Some too much ground cover. Some too much patio or pool. He didn’t know how to describe the perfect lawn. He could see it clearly in his mind but found himself unable to wrap the right words around his vision. Perhaps that’s why it took so long to find “the” house, six full months before they pulled up in front of a small, ‘50s style home with a sparkling emerald carpet out front. His heart lurched. His breath caught. As soon as he confirmed that the back yard was as pristine as the front, his decision was made. Ed had found his home. And Liz, patience worn raw, heaved a huge sigh of relief the day they closed the deal.
Ed loved his newly acquired lawn. He bought all the necessary equipment to maintain it properly: the mower, the edger, the blower. He mowed and fertilized and watered and gloried in his grass. But soon he began to worry. No matter what he did, his lawn attracted other things; bugs and weeds and moles, all doing their best to mar the perfection of his yard. Worst by far were the Ibis. They traveled from house to house in large flocks. Sometimes he would look out the front window to see dozens of them trampling his carefully tended grass, probing the ground with those long, curved bills, leaving holes everywhere. He hated them. In the end, he decided to call one of those yard treatment services and have them saturate his lawn with chemicals designed to kill everything except the grass. And that should get rid of the Ibis, too, he thought with satisfaction. No insects to eat, no Ibis. Simple.
Indeed, it did seem to be that simple. The next time the Ibis came through the neighborhood, they avoided his lawn completely. Well, except for the one perched atop his mailbox, staring rather intently at the front of his house. Though he ran across the yard, waving his arms and clapping his hands, the Ibis maintained its position until they were no more than two feet apart. After a few long seconds of scrutiny, it finally took to the air and rejoined the rest of the flock now feeding a ways down the block. Ed found the encounter a bit unnerving but the Ibis was gone. That was that.
The next morning, Ed woke to a loud bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz-ing noise that appeared to be coming from every direction. The house was dim, too, much darker than it should be with the sun on the rise. He headed to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee and stopped at the living room window, aghast. The outside of the glass was covered with flies, uncountable numbers of flies. He ran, panicked, from room to room to room. Every window in the house was covered with flies, horrible black buzzing flies. Back in the living room, he slapped his palm against the pane. As the flies backed away from the disturbance, he once more glimpsed the Ibis standing on the mail box, looking calmly in his direction. “Never seen anything like this,” Mike-the-pest-control- guy said later. “By the way, you’ll have to find some way to sweep or vacuum up all them dead ones. Can’t help you with that, I’m afraid.”
It was with some trepidation that Ed opened his eyes the next day. But all the windows were as clear and clean as he’d left them the previous evening. Order was restored. Time to mow the lawn. He started in the back. Completing the mowing there, he started on edging around the fence and the planting beds. Something was moving under the mulch of the bed bordering the rear of the house. He carefully shifted the mulch aside with a hoe. Snakes. Lots of small black snakes. They writhed and slithered in tangled heaps, infesting the entire bed from what he could see. Ed was terrified of snakes. He fled to the house. Once inside, an awful thought occurred to him. He cracked open the front door and peered around it at the planting bed there. More snakes. Tons of them. He slammed the door shut and locked it. Through the window he saw the Ibis on what had now become its habitual perch — the mailbox. The shudder that gripped him was involuntary and violent. “Can’t do much about snakes,” Mike said. “Maybe try a wildlife trapper. You seem like kind of an unlucky guy, Ed.”
Ed was not an imaginative man but the Ibis on the mailbox haunted him throughout the evening. He decided to see what he could find out about the birds. The Ibis, he learned, was sacred to the ancient Egyptians. They revered it for its power to repel pestilent flies and winged serpents. Ibis. Flies. Serpents. Ed decidedly did not want to connect those dots. Too fanciful. Lawn maintenance was simply much more treacherous than he had anticipated. The natural world far too unruly for his taste. Tomorrow he would call Liz and put the house up for sale, have her look for some tidy condominium with concrete and a pool, maybe near a sandy beach. He’d had enough of grass.
© Karen Kleis – All Rights Reserved
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