Islands of Clover

Learning a different idea of beauty.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY KATE O'HARA

Andy had been mowing for at least an hour when I came out, balancing a basket of wet laundry on my hip, and breathed in the day. The air was thick with the sweet scent of fresh-cut grass. Damp with dew, it stuck to my sneakers. I looked out beyond the clothesline—and tried to make sense of the islands of clover and random clusters of dandelion left dotting our otherwise manicured lawn. My husband, an engineer, was deliberate and methodical. What the heck is he doing? I wondered.

Andy stopped, dragged the mower back, and circled around a stand of clover in the middle of the lawn!

Our neighbors’ properties were weed-free. Bushes were pruned and edged beds confined new rows of annuals. Our place, though, was a crazy quilt of a landscape. Rag-tag weeds and wildflowers encroached upon the lawn. Potatoes and garlic grew in the center of a mowed half-acre. The clumps of clover and protected stands of dandelion only added to the disarray. The memory of every oddball thing that Andy had ever done raced through my mind. I was aggravated, though I didn’t want to be.

Taking a deep breath, I turned my attention back to the laundry. I started hanging the sheets and towels—just as the roaring red engine of Andy’s push lawnmower rounded the house.

His tattered t-shirt, a relic from a father-son rafting trip, hung limp with sweat. Pausing, he gave his head a good scratch before heading across the lawn again. The mower left ribbons of freshly mowed grass in its wake. But then he stopped, dragged the mower backwards, and transcribed a circle around a stand of clover in the middle of the lawn!

I dropped the bag of clothespins and ran across the lawn, waving my arms and shouting.

“Shut the mower!”

He did. “What is it?” he asked.

“What are you doing?!” I said, pointing to the patch of clover. “It’s for the bees,” he said.

“What is?”

“The clover,” he said, as though that was explanation enough. “And the dandelions?” I asked, pointing to the yellow cluster of starbursts huddled by the pear tree.

“Oh, they’re just pretty.”

“The lawn looks ridiculous!” I said, my voice climbing.

Andy uncapped his water bottle and took a long swig. Then he spoke. “The bees are dying off, you know that,” he said. “Re-member last year—all those zucchini flowers and no zucchini? We need the bees to pollinate the garden. The clover will attract them. This,” he opened his arms to embrace the entire lawn, “isn’t ridiculous. It makes sense, and it’s beautiful. Just look.”

By long-standing agreement, the inside of the house is my domain and the outside is his. For that reason alone, I knew I should back off. And then I remembered…last fall I stopped at nearby Clover Nook Farm in Bethany, Connecticut for cider. As I had often done before, I dallied at the farmstand, comparing notes with the farmer’s wife.

“Back as far as I can remember,” she said, “when the eggplants were flowering and I would walk between the rows, the hum of wings, it’d be deafening. Not this year. Never heard so much silence.”

When I remembered those words, the fight went out of me. I looked up at Andy and said, “OK.”

It’s been a good three months since Andy and I tangled over his mowing. The tomato cages have been up-rooted, squash vines composted, and hoses stowed. I have had ample time to accustom myself to circumnavigating the islands of clover as I make my way to our vegetable garden. This morning, sweatshirt zipped and carrying a steaming coffee mug, I drag a plastic chair across the browning grass and set it down in front of a solitary aster. From where I sit, I can see the north end of our property hemmed in by mulberry, raspberry, and bamboo. Dried seedheads of milk thistle and echinacea add their own texture to the part cultivated, part wild tapestry.

Most of our suburban neighborhood, like the one I grew up in, is kept pristine by gardeners armed with hedge clippers and weed whackers. Andy’s sense of beauty, though, blooms from within, shaped as much by his values as by what pleases his eye. I have learned to cherish the tranquil setting Andy has nurtured and to appreciate the beauty he sees in an ungroomed world. I am slow to leave this spot, but with my mug drained and chores waiting, I head back to the house.

A spider has fashioned an elaborate web in the corner of the patio where a window joins the wall. Picking up a twig, I move in closer to clear away the sticky snare.

I look. Some light reflects off dew droplets in the web, casting an iridescent shimmer across its silken threads. At the center of the dazzling spiral, a golden orb weaver crouches in wait.

I open my hand and let the twig fall back to the flagstone.


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