Friday, September 09, 2005

Into the great, wide open.

A friend of mine just bought a beautiful, brand new, gorgeous, open concept, fully landscaped home in a new development just outside of town. The house is breath-taking, with English ivy climbing all over the brick walls, and a fabulous, oversized porch framed by full, blooming lilacs. Lush, rolling hills of perfectly manicured British Empire lawns, shaded by towering oaks and maple trees, surround the building. And the view! That charming vista of the fertile river valley with that crystal-clear trout stream is stunning… You should see it!
Well, come to think of it, so should he, because the place isn’t actually built yet. What my friend has bought is really only a good-sized patch of semi-frozen mud, and a really excellent architectural rendering of a builder’s very pretty and ambitious dream. But does that deter my friend from carrying on about his new home like the only thing standing between him and his first house-warming party is a second coat of paint on the kitchen wall? Not a bit. He warbles on about perennial borders, wild-flower meadows, shaded hammocks, herb gardens, and Sunday brunches on the sun-drenched patio with the enthusiasm of a grounds-keeper at Balmoral castle.
He has obviously lost complete contact with reality, but in all fairness, isn’t it like that for all new homeowners? When we fall in love with an idea, don’t we all go blind to the reality? As I contemplate at my friend’s property, all I have visions of are my boots being sucked into the tundra-like mud if I were to walk around on it. He, on the other hand, sees children lawn-bowling in the sun on freshly cut putting-green grass that has yet to be seeded, or swinging on a tire suspended from the stout limb of the venerable maple tree that hasn’t been planted yet.
And it doesn’t make the slightest difference when I point out to him that the only thing even vaguely resembling a meandering river in a fertile valley is the trickle of muddy water draining through the tire track left by the cement truck pouring the foundation for the house on the neighbouring lot. Nor will he listen as I question him about how he plans to turn his field- of- muck into a rolling estate field-of-dreams.
“Look.” I tell him, waving the architect’s drawing under my friend’s nose. “In order for the builder to create something even vaguely resembling this picture, he would have to give you all the land in this entire subdivision! Not to mention make a river run through it!”
But he not only doesn’t see, he apparently can’t hear either. He is seeing truck-loads of topsoil sculpting his little slice of the Canadian dream into a golf course, tiny nursery seedlings miraculously taking root and transforming themselves into fully formed shrubs and trees, and pits of clay sprouting flowerbeds and herb gardens. And all he hears is the happy chirping of birds.
What he doesn’t realize, of course, is that the artist’s renderings is called artists’ renderings for a reason. Sure, in about sixty years there may indeed be stately maples and regal oaks spreading their sheltering branches over the house, and there may also be flower beds, ponds, and herb gardens. But unless we have another ice age in the next century, it is not likely that a riverbed will be carved through any valley. Still, with a little luck, lilac bushes and strategically placed shrubbery may some day hide the other houses in the development from view.
The problem is that when my friend first saw the building lots advertised, the ad promised that the lots would be “landscaped.” And in order to entice would-be buyers, the artist drew was what in his solvent-addled brain passed for a fair representation of what a landscaped lot might look like. To top it all off, in his euphoric new-home-owner state my poor friend has failed to realize that some of the other houses in the new development are already up and “landscaped,” and that this landscaping consists of some grass-covered mounds of dirt alongside the drive ways, a few tiny juniper bushes that look far too small to have been separated from their mothers, and a willowy little white birch too thin to support a sparrow.
But I am not worried about my friend. Having been through it myself, I know that the strength of his illusion is greater than any reality. It will be many months before he becomes even dimly aware that he is not exactly dealing with the Royal Botanical Gardens here. By then his trees will be at least as tall as he is, and he will have stopped running over his tiny shrubs with his lawnmower. And anyway, he will be spending most of his time surveying his estate from a kneeling position as he plants, transplants and weeds, and things will always look much larger from that vantage point. When it comes to landscaping, beauty - and proportion - will always be in the eye of the devoted beholder.
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