28 July 2014

Back in Our Own Backyard

"You'll find your happiness lies
Right under your eyes,
Back in your own backyard"*

Part of the NJ backyard

I grew up in a New Jersey suburb, in a house with the proverbial backyard. The backyard was the place where you could run around to your heart’s content or lie in the grass and contemplate the clouds; it was the place you mowed in the summer, raked in the autumn and shoveled in the winter; it was where you could picnic and party, or read and nap. In later years, it was where my mother grew her vegetable garden. It was our private little piece of nature.

Our new house in Búzios had something akin to a backyard, but then again, it was nothing like what I thought of as a backyard. We called it our quintal, which means backyard, among other things, but that was just to give it a name and distinguish it from other parts of the property. Our quintal stood about 8 feet above beach level, and about 17 feet below our terrace, which is the lowest level of the house. It was steeply sloped, many-leveled and, though fairly compact, it was full of trees and bushes and weeds and (I was convinced) snakes and other creepy-crawlies. You can reach the quintal in one of three ways: via a gate at the beach, which we had early on nailed shut to stop people pushing their way in and using the area for — um, for their needs; via the "service" side of the house, a steep series of ramps and steps used by the caseiro-caretaker; and, on the opposite side of the house, via a more civilized set of 68 stairs. (The very stairs we just had to have rebuilt for reasons explained in the post of June 23, 2014). Because the area was something of a jungly mess, and because 68 steps down and 68 steps back up seemed daunting, I rarely went down to the quintal.

Summer jungle
Winter jungle

However, when we hired a young man by the name of Sandoval as our new caseiro-caretaker, things started moving fast, quintal-wise. Sandoval, who grew up on a farm in the northeastern state of Bahia, took one excited look at our quintal and before we knew it he was cleaning and pruning and weeding and chopping. All of a sudden, we could actually see the area clearly. Sandoval rescued the baby shoot of a banana tree, which now towers over me, soon to bear fruit. He planted other fruit trees (pitanga, passion fruit, avocado, fruta de conde) and hopes to plant more. We’re putting up a new, more solid gate so that we can actually go in and out our own back door. At long last, we are taking possession of our backyard! I mean, it turns out it’s really nice down there, so close to the beach, so peaceful. It brings a completely new dimension to our house. And it turns out that Sandoval, who is going to law school at night, uses the quintal often, to read and to study. One thing that Mark and I mean to do right away is put a couple of chairs down there for all of us. Beyond that, we’re waiting for inspiration. Any ideas?

*With a tip of the hat to songwriters Billy Rose, Al Jolson and Dave Dreyer

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