The Backyard by Jamie Kirkpatrick


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Our little house here on Cannon Street has a very public visage. Chances are that on any given sunny day, you’re likely to find us on the front porch having a cup of morning coffee, or if it’s a little later in the day, a glass of something else. It’s become such a habit that friends have transformed a common noun into a verb, as in “Are we porching tonight?” The answer is likely “Yes; see you at 5.” After that, it’s anyone’s game. We like it that way.

But our little house also has another face, a more private one, a stage on which the more intimate moments of our life take place. It’s only our backyard, but we like to think of it as the jewel in our little crown. The place where flowers grow in semi-ordered beds; where lilac, Russian olive, mint, and lavender scent the air; where the grandbabies play in the plastic wading pool we carted home from the Dollar Store, or where the slightly older nieces and nephews run through the sprinkler on a hot summer’s day. The place where a box tortoise makes his annual surprise appearance, but where a tiny garter snake always steals the show.

(A snake and a garden? Oh, the metaphorical possibilities! What could possibly go wrong?)

Sometimes—OK, on most summer days—I go to the backyard for what I refer to as some hammock therapy, a sweating glass of lemonade only an arm’s length away. I’ve been known to fall asleep during these sessions, but that never seems to bother the therapist. There’s not even a fifty minute hour back here. On cool mornings I might slip out of bed before dawn to listen to a rousing chorus of birdsong; at dusk, I watch swallows flit silently in and out of the trees that shade and protect us from too much southern exposure. Bats do their job, too, plucking noisome mosquitos right out of the air.

Of course, our private in-town oasis doesn’t come without a little sweat equity. Grass does grow; weeds do sprout; flower beds need mulch. The patio furniture needs a good power washing at least once a summer. The wisteria needs to be schooled along the wall; the hummingbird feeder needs more simple syrup. The grill needs a good scrape. Maybe we should move the peonies to the other side of the garden where they’ll get better sun. But I’m not complaining; what’s the good life in the backyard without a little effort to make it even more worthwhile?

I’m well aware of the fact that it’s the front porch of our home that gets the glory. Let it shine! But now you know the little secret out back. Whether bathed in dappled sunlight or covered in a blanket of new-fallen snow, the backyard is there just for us. My wife likes to show it off to strangers and friends alike, but at the end of the day, the wind blows the gate shut and we are left to enjoy a quiet moment in the little world we created all by ourselves.

We like it that way, too.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

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