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Zen and the Art of Total Garden Terror

Most time spent in the garden is positive and healthy. This is why many medical experts suggest we do more of it. In my own garden, I tend to have three types of experiences. Short visits are generally recon. A quick walk. Mostly, I’m assessing. But even this helps to ease stress, albeit there’s not enough time to fully unwind.

This ultra-focused gardener is a prime target for startling into orbit.

This ultra-focused gardener is a prime target for startling into orbit.

Marathon sessions, on the other hand, are different. Hours in, and I’m absorbed—utterly focused on the task at hand. Lost in my own little world. Decompressed as hell. I’m a simple guy, so I don’t know all the fancy words and concepts, but I’m guessing that “Zen like” probably best describes that state. When I’m in this frame of mind it’s like a dream. 

Which sets me up for the third and final state of gardening consciousness: holy freakin’ terror! See, it’s during Zen-like moments that I do dumb things like accidentally step on a snake. 

I live in southwest Ohio, which ain’t no Australia, nor Louisiana. Places where every other living creature is determined to kill you. We have no bears to chase you down. No puma lunging out of the shadows. Our snakes all lack venom. Yep, we Buckeyes are generally pretty safe outdoors. We’re far more likely to die in one of those “Hey, y’all, watch this!” moments involving a roof, a pool and a six-pack than from any local wildlife. Nevertheless, there must be something in our DNA that causes one in three Ohio gardeners to drop dead from heart attacks after stepping on perfectly harmless black rat snakes while in a Zen-like state.

I have accidentally stepped on snakes twice. The first time turned my hair gray. The second, my hair went white. The next time—odds are I’ll have that heart attack.

But those incidents were nothing compared to the time I noticed a huge wolf spider seemingly trapped in the pool. Wolf spiders are inherently terrifying, but in my rational moments I am just capable of knowing that they are, like black rat snakes, good and necessary parts of the ecosystem. I decided to save it—with an eight-foot board. But the board was heavy, and I clumsily splashed it down near the spider, which caused about 1,000 babies I hadn’t noticed riding its abdomen to explode out into the water like black, fuzzy fireworks. That’s when I became the first man to go into orbit without a rocket. 

That only happened once. Lately, my most common moments of terror in the garden happen when my cruel and diabolical wife comes up behind me and suddenly, without warning, in a perfectly ordinary tone of voice, utters, “I cleaned the litter box.” Or something even less exciting. 

She takes way too much joy in the utter panic that ensues.