Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Billy's Backyard

I wish I could do Billy's backyard justice. I hesitate to even write about it because I don't think I can quite conjure the magical low-slouching beauty of the place with my words and the great somnolent feeling of repose I have there.

Billy's backyard--like the man, Billy, himself--is in South Florida. Fort Lauderdale, to be precise. Billy was my across-the-street neighbor for, I don't know, at least fifteen years until Fru and I and my two girls moved away in 2012 . . . I spent a lot of time in his back yard. Beer drinking, fire pit sitting, BBQing, fish cleaning, shooting-the-ing. People would stop by--friends of his, visitors, our wonderful neighbors. It was always relaxing. There was always a joke. Always cold Busch beer in a can (Billy Beer, we all called it) among other comestibles.

The yard is not large. Billy's house sits on a corner and his back yard is narrow, then makes an L where his tool shed is, where his laundry/utility/fishing-poles-and-tackle/beer-and-bait-fridge room was and his screened porch with the giant aquarium. from that short L side, you can slip through the young palms and hibiscus on a short trail to get to Silvio and Michelle's yard/house--a passageway often used. The yard has dozens and dozens and hundreds and hundreds of plants. Billy loves plants. (I love plants--one of the things I miss most--if not the most--about Florida and about my house are the plants, my plants, my yard.) It has oak trees and some palms, it has orchids hanging from branches, it is fenced in with an old wooden fence. There is a green house of sorts made from pvc pipe and wire mesh where he grows all sorts of small plants, flowering plants, seedlings and such in an assortment of pots and mugs and jars and strange collectives. Some strange and collective plants there as well. The sides of the yard, along the fence and the house, festoon with greenery and flowers and some vines. And there are bird baths and bird feeders, there's an old white bathtub with hunks of coral all around it and inside the tub his turtle lives there--two turtles. There is the fish cleaning station. There used to be a big orange tree and red grapefruit tree and the fruit was there for the picking (but, alas, they were old trees and died) and there are mangoes in trees around the corner. The place is leafy and cozy and unrefined. There's a table and plastic chairs and one giant fish cooler that overflow visitors can sit on. There's uneven paving stones with duckweed growing like green grout between them. There are his two cats, visiting cats and homeless cats, there is a family of giant toads that eat the leftover cat food, there are many ants and the occasional roach, occasional rat, snakes once in awhile. The many lizards. Iguanas now and then. And the birds.

Billy likes birds. I like birds. He doesn't demand that only the prettiest birds get cared for in his yard--doves and sparrows are as welcome as orioles and owls. Blue jays are common, Cardinals come around less often. There are song birds, small ones with nice colors which I cannot name, hummingbirds, the bright yellow orioles, those little burrowing owls, ibis, vultures, hawk and osprey sometimes fly over. I have been alone in his yard at night with the lights off and have herons come, have had them fly closely under his trees and closely above my head. I had a bird land on my head once, as I sat talking to Billy. He couldn't stop laughing as I shooed it off, not knowing what the heck it was in my hair.

We did a lot of laughing. A lot of talking. Beer and more beer but also grilled meats and vegetables and fresh fish, an oyster roast, clams and shrimp, olives and cucumbers. Lots and lots and lots . . .

The few times I have been back since January 7th of 2012, I spent most of my time in Billy's back yard. It is full of plants and, yes, junk, old and rusting things, some new and rusting things, broken things, but it all fits in its lack of trying to fit.

I fit there. In Billy's backyard. Did and still do.