From Bosworth Field to my backyard 

From Bosworth Field to my backyard 

It’s always classy to launch a column with a quote from Shakespeare. Many would argue that the Bard doesn’t get enough ink these days, and they’re probably correct. Sadly, his prose and verse don’t condense easily into tweets. And several of his characters and tropes go against the very stereotypes that the Jewish Standard/NJJN abhor and try to dispel.

But I’m going to brush past all that and quote the opening lines from his unrelentingly brutal “Richard III”: “Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this son of York.” The play now is enjoying a summer of glory, with stagings in New York, Ontario, and across the pond, stirring renewed debate about whether a disabled actor should be cast as the hunchbacked, malevolent Richard, or if the role can be a gender-bender as in the casting of a non-disabled Black woman for the Central Park festival.

Methinks I digress, so let’s get back to the winter of discontent many of us endured. Reflect a moment and count the ways it impacted on our everyday lives. I’ll tick off three obvious disrupters: covid, Ukraine, and inflation. The latter two continue to present themselves as in-your-face (and wallet or handbag) threats, while the constantly morphing covid haunts us as a sort of semi-permanent backdrop. Just as the pandemic appeared to be in the final throes of its own downward spiral, the latest variant emerged. Highly transmissible BA.5 struck as we were shelving our face masks and returning to restaurants, theaters, shuls, gyms, schools, and offices, lulled by a false notion that we had tamed the beast and simply fatigued by something that seemed so last year (and the year before that).

Somehow, I find the name of the newest strain as scientifically bland as its predecessors. It fails to convey a sense of urgency. BA.5 sounds eerily like a college degree with a minor in decimals rather than a pathogen affecting millions. Perhaps if it were rechristened something like Sneaky Variant 5.0 it would weigh greater on our collective consciousness. And now I and many others face the possibility of getting a fifth shot in the fall as Pfizer, Moderna, and other pharmaceutical giants refine their vaccines to BA.5 specifications. This would be my seventh protection against covid, factoring in two series of two shots of the experimental drug Evusheld I received as prophylaxis while undergoing chemotherapy for cancer this spring.

After watching President Biden, fully inoculated and probably the most shielded and tested person on the planet, catch BA.5, recover, and then catch it again on the rebound, I’m fully committed to taking the next booster, in addition to my annual flu shot. Plus, I’ll continue to wear the mask in crowded venues. But before we leave the disease discussion, let’s not forget monkeypox, now forcing its way into notoriety as its spreads in the metropolitan area and nationwide. It’s just been declared a health emergency by the feds after New York’s governor and mayor took similar action. Earlier, there were reports that certain groups objected to what they consider the pejorative imagery of the name and campaigned for a rebranding. Would it make it any less virulent to call it Inconvenientpox?

Yes, this summer of 2022 hangs heavily in the air, with more than the usual carryover of unresolved challenges from the winter and spring. The dog days of August are in the offing, followed by the heated rhetoric of what’s sure to be pivotal midterm elections in the fall. The summer glory referred to by the Bard, namely Richard’s defeat by Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field, has me contemplating, on a much more granular and certainly less-important level, the disappointments and reversals of my own Bosworth Field, more colloquially known as the backyard.

Once again, I am forced to confess to Jewish Standard/NJJN readers that I botched my gardening strategy this spring and am now paying for the lapse during a summer without leafy, lush, overlapping hostas bordering my flower beds. Instead, I am left with jagged, ragged quasi-plants, the tops nibbled down to the base by deer with an exquisite sense of timing, who were able to spot my miscalculation and pounce (or prance).

This isn’t my first hosta faux pas, and I previously wrote about it for readers. Truth be told, the deer (and that includes those darling but voracious fawns) have outwitted me in two of the last three years. It would be easy to write this off to covid and personal health distractions, but no, the blame rests squarely on my increasingly stooped shoulders. I thought I could speed up the protection process by placing netting over the plants as soon as they poked through the ground, rather than waiting for them to reach maturity and then fashioning the mesh as a canopy. This would be done in conjunction with liberal applications of a foul-smelling deer and rabbit repellant aptly named Liquid Fence. (Rotten eggs, garlic, and other unspecified ingredients make up their secret sauce. I did not, however, see a pareve marking on the container.)

As the spiky shoots of the hostas broke ground and began unfolding, reaching for the balm of a spring sun, I put down the sections of netting, congratulating myself on outside-the-box thinking. I became so overconfident that I slackened the spraying of Liquid Fence. The deer (there are more of them now than when the Pilgrims arrived) waited patiently until the shoots sprouted through the netting and unfurled. I had a few glorious days of preening plants before the you-know-who struck — bucks, does, fawns, the whole mishpocha.

They operated ruthlessly and efficiently. I am now left to contemplate, much like Brooklyn Dodger fans of yore, a wait-until-next-year mantra. The colorful substitutes of marigolds and coreopsis I’ve planted fill the space but not the void. My hostas, some 80 years old and transplanted from my wife’s grandparents’ house, comprised the first level of a three-tiered series of plantings backed by yews and cypress of graduating levels. And this year, the deer, you should pardon the expression, branched out for the first time and chomped our lilies of the valley to a fare-thee-well.

When I drive by other West Orange landscapes featuring large, poufy hostas, I’m literally green with envy. Then I realize that these gardens aren’t as close to the woods as is my mountaintop property. Of course, the deer aren’t satisfied with just obliterating my plants; they put an exclamation point on their destruction by leaving signature scat all over the lawn. And briefly mentioning the lawn, how stressful the last few months have been for what used to be an unbroken green expanse, now reduced to mottled straw and pale green by lack of rainfall. At least my neighbors share the same fate and I take some solace knowing the hostas, lilies, and grass are hardy enough to return in 2023.

Now I understand just a bit how frustrated and distraught those who till the soil to raise actual crops feel when drought or pestilence prevail. I will keep doggedly at my gardening, though. The first time it happened, shame on the deer. The second time, shame on me. The third time? To be continued.

For a column closer, I’ll hearken back to Shakespeare, sort of: Doth I protest too much? Yes. Actually, the summer has supplied its share of glories. My oncologist pronounced my cancer in remission, my wife underwent successful knee-replacement surgery, we have September quiet time planned at Long Beach Island, the grandkids are all safely off to college, and Rosh Hashanah is on the horizon.

Jonathan E. Lazarus of West Orange is a retired editor at the Star-Ledger and a copy editor at the Jewish Standard/NJJN. He likes deer, in the abstract or from a distance.

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