Look, there’s gardening, there’s landscaping, and then there’s New Mexico yard work. Especially in the subdivision of Eldorado, where we all have leach fields as part of our septic systems that amount to something like 400 square feet of disturbed soil, “weeding” is more like tree removal. Leave a single tumbleweed to flourish for a summer, especially a good rainy summer like this one, and by October you’ll have a barbed, Buick-sized beast that will drop a billion seeds in your yard once the wind uproots it and sends it on its namesake journey. Or worse, since you’ll probably have a crap-ton of them growing tightly together, they’ll spend the winter huddled against the wind like emperor penguins and will still be there in April, a brittle, scratchy wall of horror that you think can’t get worse until the new crop starts to grow between them, and then you just have to sell your house and move on.
Since I don’t want to move next spring, I tackled the leach field, which means I defoliated a packrat neighborhood, dealt an earthquake to a gopher compound, and flushed out pockets of gnats that clung to my face like restless freckles. But as any Eldorado resident can tell you, this is business as usual. And it gets worse.
A few years ago, I got so sick of packrats trashing my yard and stealing our stuff (we’d see toys, barbeque tools, shin guards sticking out of holes) that I resolved to throw the bums out. I figured the trick would be to remove all the dead cholla cactus, which die when the rats set up house beneath them. So I attacked the spiky monsters with a Sawzall and picked up the gnarled branches with the log-gripper thingie from our fireplace tools. I’ll tell you what—nothing makes a person look so badass as driving to the dump with a truckbed full of cholla she removed herself. Even the dump dude, the one with the tattoo on his forehead, grunted in respect as I shoved the deadly cargo into the concrete pit.
But I digress.
A few years ago, in an attempt to make our yard as presentable as possible for our son’s high school graduation party, we decided [ominous music here] to take down our old shed.
First, a word about the shed. It was a beauty when my husband and I put it up in 1991. Since we were using our garage as an office, this was to become our workshop and storage area. Apple-cheeked newlyweds we were then, leveling the soil, following the diagrams, handing each other tools in the fresh breeze. We cheerily set up shelving, tacked up pegboards, and labeled boxes. When we were done we sighed and gazed upon it: This was where Scott would handcraft our baby’s bassinet. This was where I would carve stone sculptures to grace our patio. This was where our treasured possessions—vintage concert T-shirts, old sketchbooks, my Barbie dolls—would be safe.
As we linked arms and turned to walk back to the house that evening—wiping our brows, humming “Our House” as the sun set behind us—40,000 spiders moved into that sorry shack, the mice unloaded their tiny U-hauls, and the rabbits set up a burrowing network that would rival the drug lords on the US-Mexico border.
By the following spring, entering the shed was like a wardrobe passage into opposite-day Narnia, a dystopian land of spider armies presiding over castles made of mouse poop. I rarely went near the thing. If I really needed something that was stored in there, say, a suitcase, I would just borrow it from a friend, and if that wasn’t possible I would beg Scott to get it for me. When it came time for me to “put it away” afterward, I would crack the shed door open, chuck the item inside, and run away. Fast. I gradually forgot what was even in the shed. Scott would make a brave attempt every few years to clean it out and reorganize it, but it was dead to me.
But entropy happens, and eventually the shed was showing signs of wear—especially where the trampoline bashed into it the day it took flight in a gust of wind (yes, this happened). It was time to take the thing down.
The day of destruction was to be a Saturday morning in April. I got out there at first light in my haz-mat suit (kitchen gloves and a bandanna tied across my face), backed the truck up to the shed—taking care to avoid the red anthill nearby—and got to work.
First I surveyed the stuff stored outside the shed. Oh, look! My old kayak! What fun we used to have on the river! Maybe we could do it again. Maybe…well, maybe not. The thing all but granulated in my hands. The same was true for nearly everything we had “stored” out there. Turns out it was just a place where things went to die in the fierce, high-altitude sun. I filled the truck with these remnants of our possessions and also loaded up the milk crates we’d “borrowed” decades earlier, back when answering machines were all the rage and George Costanza still worked for the Yankees.
The kayak had been resting on four cinder blocks that I figured could be donated to Habitat for Humanity. I just had to lift up the plywood board above them, and—but what was this? A mouse house? Nay, an apartment house! Nests filled every opening! And everyone was home!
The mice looked up in stunned confusion, squinting in the sun as I gaped from above. I could swear I saw one of them flip me off. One dude who was making a sandwich dropped the mustard knife and angrily called the super. In the corner unit, a little mousette stepped out of the shower, shrieking as she rushed to cover herself with a towel. Suddenly they were all shouting: “Where’s the roof? What is that giant? Where are the children?” They scrambled to pack what they could into tiny suitcases and ran screaming as I poked a 2 x 4 into each space, dislodging their homes like a one-woman pogrom. In moments, their building was flattened and they were the new diaspora.
Of course, moving the cinder blocks revealed a whole other town—beetles, roly-polys, and all manner of wormy things had clearly lived there for generations. The beetles were the most vocal. “We live under a flippin’ cinder block!” one shouted, shaking his tiny bug fist. “Is that really too much to ask? You gotta take our homes, too?”
They didn’t even have luggage—they just tossed their stuff into grocery bags and cardboard boxes and scuttled away grumbling. Jeez, I thought, If I’m part of the 99%, where did these guys fit in?
“I’m so sorry!” I called after them.
And all those well-loved possessions inside the shed? A whole lotta mousified trash.
It goes on and on. Unholy creatures eat my spark plug cables, rabbits chew through drip irrigation hoses, a bobcat often hangs out—and generously poops—on our roof. And I’m not even mentioning the bazillions of critters brought into the house by our dear departed cat Woody, hunter extraordinaire. Those stories are, shall we say, not for everyone.
I figure if we ever take a long enough vacation, our house will quickly fill up with small mammals lounging on Barbie furniture, wearing concert T-shirts and dining on my car. On weekends they’ll go for day hikes in the lush leach-field forest and enjoy cool drinks from the washing machine hoses.
Then we’d really have to move. Into a big city full of concrete, where, for a change of pace, I could battle the cockroaches instead.