Privacy. Who doesn’t want privacy? Even if you’ve sold off half your property to a persistent developer intending to put up twenty “McMansions” on it, that doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice your privacy, does it?
You look out your bedroom window at the vast expanse of field behind the house, the copse of trees to the left, with a child’s swing hung on a low branch of the nearest maple tree, and you experience a feeling akin to nostalgia, if one can feel nostalgia by projecting oneself into the future and looking back longingly on the present.
In a year’s time, this field will be filled with humongous houses in a development pretentiously named “Châteaux de Bretagne.”
You’ve been to Brittany. You’ve toured French châteaux. Believe me, this developer’s vision has nothing in common with either western France or French castles.
The solution is as near as your nearest garden center. Or so you think.
You request a consultation with one of their landscapers. He’s happy to come to your house.
You explain the situation. It’s not that you’re antisocial. It’s just that, well, for as long as you’ve lived in your eighteenth-century farmhouse—four decades, as it turns out—you’ve looked out on rolling hills. The only occupants of those hills were deer, groundhogs, rabbits, squirrels, and the occasional skunk. And although you didn’t welcome Peter Rabbit in your small vegetable garden or Bambi’s cousins in the flower beds near the house (they were especially fond of hosta and tiger lilies), you grew misty-eyed at the sight of the deer nibbling the wildflowers that covered the hillside. But in a month’s time, the heavy equipment would be rolling in and the foundations would be laid. In less than a year, you’d have twenty new neighbors barbecuing on their patios, installing swing sets for their kids, tooling up and down their driveways in their SUVs, planting seedlings to give themselves some privacy.
“What can I do?” you ask, desperation creeping into your voice. And you worry that the princely sum you had persuaded the developer to part with may not even be sufficient to cover the mistake. So much for the Baltic cruise and the Safari and the modern kitchen and second full bathroom. You had raised three kids in this three-bedroom one-and-a-half bathroom house. Now you were empty nesters. Why in the world did you think you needed to install a second bathroom at this point in time?
Really now, was the developer’s offer that irresistible? You weren’t destitute, after all. What were you thinking?
“Sure. I’ve got just the solution,” says the landscaper, a lean 40-something with a trendy haircut and a deep voice.
“Oh yeah?” you ask. “What’s that?”
“What’s so special about bamboo?” you ask. The only thing you know about it is that pandas eat it.
“Well,” says the landscaper, “it’s cheap, it grows fast and tall, and it spreads easily. It’ll reach full maturity in two years’ time. You won’t even know your new neighbors are there!”
Seeing you hesitate, the landscaper adds: “It’ll also clean your air. Bamboo is an eco-friendly plant, a grass, rather than a tree, and it’s one of the most sustainable resources on earth. You’ll get 35% more oxygen out of a stand of bamboo than out of an equivalent stand of full-grown trees.”
You’re sold before he even tells you how much a stand of bamboo will cost you. And together, you decide where to plant. A row of bamboo set ten feet from the back of the house will give you a thick curtain of foliage in no time. You like the sound of that: a curtain of foliage. You sign on the dotted line.
The planting begins just days after the heavy equipment arrives.
“Watchful waiting.” The term is used medically, to describe a strategy adopted by people who have been diagnosed with certain illnesses but prefer to delay intensive therapies or surgery. It can also be pressed into service to describe your attitude following the planting of your new eco-friendly curtain of greenery.
“So where’s this miracle plant?” asks your wife about ten days in, when all you can see from the kitchen windows are the orange bulldozers and excavators, backhoes and dump trucks rolling across your once pristine meadow.
“Be patient!” you reply, trying not to reveal your own anxiety. The bamboo can’t grow fast enough. You’re realistic enough to know that it won’t drown out the rumbling of construction vehicles, but that’s only a temporary problem anyway. Surely if you didn’t have to look at the devastation, you’d be better able to tolerate it.
You decide to go to the New Jersey shore for a week of sun and sea.
When you return, construction vehicles are still crawling around your hill, but it no longer looks like itself. More importantly, the bamboo has sprouted. Your excitement is palpable. You kneel in the dirt, running your hands along the fresh shoots, thanking God, Nature, and the landscaper for this amazing plant, willing it to grow faster.
Your prayers are answered.
Six years later, the neighborhood that was once your flower-speckled meadow is reached by paved roads dubbed “lanes” and named after the developer’s daughters: Lila, Lucinda, Lorelei. Children ride tricycles up and down their driveways, school buses spew diesel fumes as they rattle through the neighborhood, dropping kids off at appointed places, grown men walk small Spaniels through quiet streets. The squirrels are back, but not the deer.
But you can’t see any of this. Nor can you see much of anything else from the West-facing windows in the back of the house. Sunlight once poured through these windows on a clear afternoon. No longer. The bamboo is tall and thick and it has grown right up to the house, embracing it, invading it, threatening to swallow it up, its leaves pressed against the windows, scratching and staining them. It has started to round the corners of the house. This is the stuff of a Stephen King horror flick. You think wistfully of ivy-covered stone buildings. You’ve heard that the ivy isn’t good for the stone, but still, there’s something charming about the shiny green vines creeping up the steel grey walls. The bamboo is not charming. The grass beneath it—what grass? there is no grass, for the bamboo has killed everything in its path—has long since dried and shriveled and given way to dirt.
In the wintertime, the bamboo leans over the house, its frail stalks weighed down by snow. In the summertime, it continues its relentless spread, sending out runners that stop at nothing.
You learned recently that there are many varieties of bamboo, not all of them spreaders. Why didn’t the landscaper tell you about them? You sigh. You’ve tried everything. Pandas, you’ve discovered, cannot be imported as pets. They belong to the Chinese government. Nor can you afford to have the bamboo removed: costs are prohibitive, and require cutting and burning, excavating the stumps and destroying the underground rhizome systems. It’s a multi-year process. As for the bamboo clothing companies and the manufacturers of eco-friendly, soft-as-silk sheets made from bamboo, they’re not interested in your piddly little stand of bamboo. They have their own supply.
You’ve dealt with other invasive species in your lifetime: spotted lantern flies, the coronavirus, your in-laws. Nothing compares with bamboo.
There’s only one solution.
For years now, drivers passing your house at the bottom of the hill, from the front, have looked up to see this frightening sight: a house being engulfed by bamboo. This year, something else has sprouted at the edge of the lawn, down by the road: a “For Sale” sign.
Mary Donaldson-Evans is a retired academic who has turned from writing about fiction to writing fiction of her own. Her work has been published in The Lowestoft Chronicle, Spank the Carp, Halfway Down the Stairs, The Corner Club Press, Diverse Voices Quarterly, The Literary Hatchet, and others.