The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: Gardening

Backyard Trappers

There, dancing in the flower border, was my next door neighbor, with my rat trap clinging to her finger.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 11, 1945

“How queer,” said Jimmie Frise, “the city looks in summer.”

“You mean the streets like this?” I suggested, as we drove up our old familiar avenue. “Sort of slumbering.”

“I imagine,” mused Jim, “there isn’t another city in the world that has the percentage of summer absentees Toronto has. I bet there are more people in Toronto who have summer cottages than in any other big city on earth.”

“It’s because our lake country,” I submitted, “begins less than 50 miles from the city limits. Not many big cities have a Muskoka, Haliburton and Georgian Bay within a couple of hours’ drive.”

“Montreal?” queried Jim.

“In Montreal, I pointed out, “you see the summer cottages right in the suburbs. But per population, I don’t think Montreal uses her Laurentians to the extent Toronto uses Muskoka. For one thing, vast hunks of the Laurentians are leased out to comparatively small clubs of wealthy men. Some of the choicest lakes near Montreal are exclusive.”

“Just look at this street!” cried Jim. “Not a soul in sight. Not a dog, not a cat. Every house deserted. Look at the trees, all hanging heavy with summer. Look at the bushes and the flower beds. Untouched by human hands for weeks.”

“Let out a yell,” I suggested, “and see if a single curtain stirs.”

We drove in our side drive in the dusk. We were home for just overnight, to attend to a matter of urgent business. We were going straight back to the cottage in the morning, as soon as we had bought some potatoes.

“I’ll just run around to my place,” suggested Jim, “and see if everything is okay. Then I’ll come back and spend the night here, so we can get organized for the morning.”

“No use disturbing two houses for the one night,” I agreed. “Let’s leave it until morning, and we’ll call at your place in passing.”

“Okay,” concurred Jim, taking off his coat as we entered the house.

It had the close smell of the summer-deserted house. We went about opening windows and doors. We turned on the radio, tried the taps to see if civilization was still functioning. The cool air of early night blew through the house, freshening it.

We strolled out the kitchen door into the garden. In the gloom of final dusk, we could see the lawn grass thick and wild, and the flower borders tangled and strange with hundreds of blooms. The spare and trim and skimpy garden we had last seen in early July was now a regular jungle of lush growth.

“Jim,” I called, “come over and look at these zinnias!”

Nobody ever succeeds in planting zinnias far enough apart. In the optimism of June, when you buy the little boxes with the baby zinnia plants in them, they look so spindly and lonely, one by one, that you can’t resist the human temptation to plant them close together. Plant them as far apart as you should, and they look like little orphans.

But my zinnia bed was, even in the dusk, a riot of light and dark, of great flat heads of blossom standing above a solid mass of foliage.

We strolled along the borders, peering. The verbenas that had been straggly little wisps of plants were now sturdy clusters from which sprays of bloom lifted, to my lighted match, ping, blue, white and henna. In that false spring we had in April, I had taken a walking stick and poked a hundred little holes here and there all over the borders and dropped cheap nasturtium seeds in. Every inch of my garden that had not already been conquered by some mightier breed was solidly squatted upon by swarms of nasturtiums fairly squirting perfume into the night air. In one spot where I had never seen anything much grow before, a large bush loomed in the dark. My lighted match shower it to be a pom pom chrysanthemum.

“What Was That?”

“Why,” I cried delighted, “there used to be a scraggly little mum bush, here. This is a great year for flowers.”

“It ought to be,” said Jim gravely. “The way we have kicked this poor earth around the past six years I guess it just naturally feels like blooming again.”

“Remember how late the spring was?” I recollected. “It will likely be a wonderful year for autumn flowers.”

“Autumn flowers,” said Jim, “are all Toronto people ought to plant. The average home that can afford a reasonable garden can also afford a summer cottage. The family is all away for July and August. Therefore, Toronto should be famous for its autumn flowers. All our gardens should concentrate or things that bloom in September and October.”

“See that stuff there?” I pointed in the dark to large forests of tall shapes. “Sunflowers, golden glow and other bright gaudy yellow things for September.”

“It’s wonderful the way things have thrived, without watering,” admitted Jim.

“I bet the ground under those things is moist right now,” I said, pushing cautiously among the shadowy stalks and feeling down.

At which instant there was a sharp squeak, right under my hand. And some creature, somewhere in size between a chipmunk and a cocker spaniel, thrashed away up the garden amid the plants.

I leaped back with a yell.

“Hey,” I barked, “what the heck was that?”

“It sounded like a groundhog,” said Jim, tip-toeing up the lawn in the direction in which the animal had gone. “Psst! Scat!”

But whatever it was, it lay very doggo.

“Jim,” I exclaimed, “it was huge. It was as big as a collie.”

“Hardly,” said Jim. “It might have been a rat. Or it might have been a small groundhog.”

“It barked,” I declared.

“No, that was you that barked,” said Jim. “It gave a kind of squeak.”

“Or whistle,” I suggested. “I just about put my hand on it. I was going to feel the ground and I could feel the wind from it as it jumped.”

“Maybe it was a groundhog,” surmised Jim, “that has wandered in from the park. The park is only a few blocks away. And in a city as deserted as this, probably the groundhogs and other animals wander at will through the desolate streets.”

“Let’s get a flashlight,” I proposed, “and ferret it out. I don’t want any wild animals loose in this garden. Why, a groundhog could wreck the place in a week.”

We went and searched the house for a flashlight but without luck. All the torches had been taken to the cottage. We stood on the veranda and gazed up and down the street. Not a window showed a light. There was no flashlight to be borrowed from any neighbor. And the drug store closes at 9, bringing Toronto’s night life to an absolute stop.

“I tell you what we will do,” I suggested. “We’ll each get a clothes prop and poke around in the garden. If we give it a scare, maybe it will keep out for the rest of the summer. I’m worried about what it can do to those lovely plants.”

So we went back to the garden and I located the clothesline props in their usual corner by the garage. Armed with 10-foot poles, Jim and I went systematically around the garden, cautiously poking in among the shrubbery, the flower plots and the unseen tangles of sweet william, perennial phlox, ferns and salvia. In the spot where the mysterious marauder had vanished up the border, Jim thought he detected some movement. He gave a loud “boo” and made a menacing jab with his clothes prop. But it was a false alarm, and when he hauled the pole out, I could see something dangling from the crotch at the end. I struck a match. And it was almost an entire verbena plant Jim had torn loose. One of those rare henna-colored ones.

“Well, if you want me to help hunt…” retorted Jim to my groans.

“Let’s Set a Trap”

We went all over the garden without disturbing anything but a few small moths. And we caused a few crickets to cease their singing for a moment or two.

“It may have been a rabbit,” declared Jim.

“Rabbits don’t bark,” I said sharply.

“That thing did not bark,” said Jim firmly. “It squeaked.”

“Or sort of whistled,” I insisted.

“Okay, whistled,” resigned Jim. “But it certainly isn’t here any more.”

I stood in the dark, picturing my beautiful garden all eaten off to stubble by the time we got home from the cottage.

“I’ve got it!” I cried suddenly. “A trap. Let’s set a trap?”

“What kind of a trap?” demanded Jim.

“Down cellar,” I said, “I’ve got an old rat trap that we brought from a house we used to live in. It’s a sort of oversize mouse trap.”

“It wouldn’t hold a groundhog,” said Jim.

“But it would scare the bejeepers out of it,” I asserted.

“You don’t want some poor little animal,” accused Jim, “wandering around with a trap fastened to it. A trap should be used for vermin, like mice or rats. And it should kill instantly.”

“Wouldn’t a rat trap kill a groundhog instantly?” I demanded. After all, that was a pretty small animal…”

“I thought you said it was as big as a collie dog,” said Jim.

“First impressions are always hasty.” I excused, “especially in the dark.”

“Well, I don’t like the idea of setting traps at random,” declared Jim. “If you know what you’re after, okay. But to set a trap for an unknown animal is pretty risky.”

“No animal has any right,” I asserted, “in my flower beds. I have my gate locked, so no dogs can get in. I have spent quite a number of dollars on this garden. After all, this garden is my crop. It is my property. Even if it is only ornamental, it is still my property. And anything that damages it is liable to the consequences.”

“Let’s see the trap,” suggested Jimmie.

Which was only his excuse for getting back into the lighted kitchen and organizing a cup of tea. While the kettle boiled, I went down cellar and hunted up the trap. Incidentally, I explored the cellar and found a number of things that would be handy up at the cottage. A box of assorted nails, mostly second hand; a scythe that I had forgotten buying, 10 years back; a long iron bar that I had never seen before but which would certainly come in handy for something up at the cottage.

When I came clattering up the cellar stairs, Jim exclaimed:

“What in thunder is all this junk?”

And when I explained, he muttered:

“Some people should never go down cellar!”

I showed him the trap. Just an ordinary over-size mouse trap. He washed it under the tap and it came up as good as new.

“What will you bait it with?” he inquired.

“I don’t intend to bait it,” I said. “I’m just going to set it. And leave it concealed in among the likeliest looking things. I’ll wait until daylight to place it on a runway. All these groundhogs and things follow regular runways or paths. We’ll find them sure, in the morning.”

“Then,” reasoned Jim, “whatever it is we heard squeaking in the bushes will have to step, with its tiny foot, on this tiny little trigger…”

“Ah, no,” I explained. “That is where my humanitarian instincts come into play. I’ll set the trap and then rest a long stick over the trigger in such a way that whatever steps on or disturbs the long stick will set off the trap with a loud and terrifying smack. Listen …”

And I set the trap and then tapped it with a table knife. It sure made a terrifying sound. It made us both jump.

“The idea,” I pointed out, “is to scare the creature, not to kill it.”

“Ah, this is better,” agreed Jim, pouring the tea.

After we had finished the tea, we went back into the garden with the trap. From the lattice fence, I peeled off a slender strip about the size and thickness of a school ruler. Down among the mint and chives, my two favorite vegetables, I hid the trap, ready set, with the help of matches. Across the trigger, I tenderly laid the strip of wood.

“Now,” I explained, “whatever comes through the mint bed gets the fright of its life.”

Caught in the Mint

And feeling a lot happier about the autumn flowers, Jim and I went in and luxuriated in the unaccustomed pleasures of a hot shower, getting off us a lot of that scale that encrusts the human body after a few weeks in the pure air and cold water of the Ontario northland.

And with rooms flushed full of cool night air, we went to our beds with all the oohs and aaahs of summer cottagers returning from the hard mattresses of the vacation to the light, soft mattresses of the effete city.

It was bright gleaming morning when we were awakened.

I sat bolt upright.

Jim called from his room:

“What was that!”

“Something woke me!” I called back.

Then it came.

A loud shriek.

From my back garden.

I leaped to the window, and looked out. There, dancing in the flower border, was my next door neighbor, a charming lady, with my rat trap clinging to her finger. After a pause in which she stared in anger and astonishment at the outrage, she let out another shriek.

Down the stairs we raced in our pyjamas. Out the back door.

“My dear, my dear lady,” I gasped as I reached her and seized the trap.

“Did you set that?” she demanded angrily, snatching it away.

“Please, please,” I begged, “let me open it.”

Jim held it, while I pried its hungry snapper up.

The lady nursed her hand and studied me sternly.

“What was the idea,” she inquired, “of a trap in the mint?”

“Why, last night,” I babbled, “last night, when we got home … we heard a groundhog or something… last night, just after we got home … Say, I didn’t know you were home.”

“I got home at midnight,” said my neighbor. “And I didn’t know you were home!”

“But … but…” I fumbled.

“Your wife told me,” said the lady firmly, “to help myself to the mint any time I was down in the summer. I came down just to get some potatoes and some supplies, and I was leaving right away. Suddenly, I thought of the mint. And this …”

She held up her damaged fingers.

“Do you believe me,” I inquired earnestly, “when I tell you we heard some sort of animal in the shrubbery here… Jimmie, did we hear some sort of groundhog?”

Jimmie, in his pyjamas, solemnly bore me out.

“I don’t think,” said my neighbor, “that you deliberately set the trap for me. But it was me you got.”

So we picked her a nice big bouquet of mint, with some chives too, though they’re not at their best this late.

And I took the trap back down cellar and hid it up in the furnace pipes.

And Jim made another pot of tea.


Editor’s Note: “Down cellar” (meaning “in the basement”) is a regional phrase common to old Ontario. My grandparents said it all the time.

Sprinkler System

By Greg Clark, July 14, 1945

“How much hose, inquired Jimmie Frise, “have you got left?”

“By golly,” I said, “I’ve only got about 30 feet.”

“That’s about what I’ve got,” muttered Jim. “And even that leaks.”

“Mine,” I informed him, “spurts all over at the tap. It has two main flaws which shoot fine jets about 15 feet. And in between are sundry soft spots that dribble.”

Mine’s exactly the same,” said Jim. “What I was going to suggest, we ought to pool our hose. I’ll bring my section over and we’ll make a new splice and join them up together. It will make one good hose. Then, on alternate nights we’ll roll it up and take it to each other’s house.”

“A fine suggestion,” I commended. “Maybe out of the two 30-foot lengths we could get one decent hose of 50 feet. Which would just about reach the foot of my yard.”

“Same here,” said Jim. “At this moment some of the best flowers I’ve got are parching to death, 10 feet out of range of my hose.”

“Shouldn’t we have bought some of this ersatz hose?” I inquired. “This wartime composition rubber? I see lots of that hose for sale.”

“Not me,” declared Jim. “I’m waiting for the experiments to end before I invest in any wartime substitutes.”

“I’ve talked to some people,” I advised, “who say that these rubber substitute hoses are better than any rubber hose they ever owned.”

“Maybe so,” said Jim. “But if rubber heels and the rubber soles you get on sport shoes these days are any sample of what rubber substitute is, I don’t want any of it. Did you ever notice the black scars the kids’ shoes make on the hardwood floors?”

“So that’s what it is?” I cried. “I’ve been wondering what those black scratches were.”

“Every scar,” asserted Jim, “is a little bit of wear and tear on the rubber substitute in the shoes. At that rate, they can’t last any time. And I bet hoses and tires are the same.”

“But it stands to reason,” I countered, “that science would sooner or later find some substitute for rubber. The minute the motor car was invented and good roads began to branch out in all directions all over the world, we should have foreseen that mankind would not for long be dependent on the juice of a tree that would only grow in certain restricted climates.”

“It does seem silly,” agreed Jim. “The whole world, from the Arctic through the temperate zones to the tropics and on down through the south temperate zone into the Antarctic, hundreds of millions of people with millions of motor cars each with five tires, all dependent upon a few South Sea Islanders squeezing the sop out of some special trees.”

“It isn’t good enough,” I submitted. “Science just had to get busy, war or no war.”

“Yet,” pointed out Jim, “look how dependent the world still is for so many different things on some small section of the world. Tea, for example. And coffee. How is it the whole world has become so victimized by certain habits and customs? Russia drinks billions of gallons of tea every day. Look at Britain, soaking up tea in lakes and gulfs. Up in northern Canada trappers having to have their pail of tea breakfast, noon and supper. And coffee! Millions of Americans, millions of South Americans, Frenchmen huddled over their coffee cups all along those open-air cafes of the boulevards. Spaniards, Italians …”

Mystery of the Moose

“That’s a queer thing,” I admitted. “A little bush grows in China and India. A few famished Chinese soak the dried leaves in boiling water. They’ll soak anything in boiling water. Sharks’ fins, birds’ nests. So they soak dried leaves. Presently, the queer little habit had spread all over the earth, and hundreds of millions simply can’t do without it.”

“Science hasn’t done anything about that,” pointed out Jim. “Maybe they can find a substitute for rubber. But can they find a substitute for all the other odd things men squeeze out of trees or pluck off bushes in comparatively small areas of the earth’s surface?”

“Do you know, Jim,” I mused, “it seems to me mankind is the laziest animal of all. Admitted, a moose is lazy. All a moose had to do, 1,000 years ago, was keep on slowly feeding south, through continuous lily pad ponds and willow brush and all the other things he eats, in order to reach the southern states. And there, in lush comfort, with no severe winter, the moose tribe would have found heavenly habitat. But are there any moose in Louisiana or Georgia? No. They are found exclusively in the hardest, bitterest spruce tracts of the north, where winter comes like grim death and hangs on for six months out of the 12. Why didn’t the moose tribe feed steadily southward? Why were they so lazy as to stick up in the inhospitable Canadian north?”

“Hmmm,” said Jim.

“The same with so many other beasts,” I said. “But man, apparently so energetic, so discontented, so eternally in search of better and more comfortable regions in which to live, is so lazy that If some Chinese shows him how to soak dried leaves in boiling water, mankind thinks the Chinese have the only leaves that can be soaked. Why haven’t we experimented with our own leaves?”

“Maybe we have,” said Jim. “Maybe those of us that are still left are the ones that haven’t – experimented. I think it is safer to let the Chinese experiment with soaking dried leaves and the Turks experiment with roasted berries. Always let somebody else do the experimenting. If they find something good and it doesn’t kill them, okay. Let’s use it.”

“That’s the trouble with us,” I protested. “Is there a sillier spectacle on earth than the past 30 years, with millions of motor cars racing all over the world, in seven continents, surely the most energetic and hectic spectacle in all human history. Yet the whole vast pandemonium dependent on the juice of some trees growing in a couple of small tropic areas. Modern industry may be a marvel. Modern science may be a wonder. But they both ought to be ashamed of themselves, putting the whole traffic of humanity on a foundation of bug juice from some pagan island.”

A Question of Rubber

“The best principle to observe in modern business,” explained Jim, “is, if it works, leave it alone. The first use of rubber in connection with traffic was rubber tires for wealthy men’s buggies and dog carts. Then – came the bicycle. And before anybody had time to invent a synthetic substance for the millions of bicycles in the 90’s, the rubber importers, who had got busy to meet the buggy trade, were able to produce enough wild rubber to meet the first onset of the bicycle tire trade. Then, foreseeing the great days ahead when the whole world would travel on bicycles, the rubber planters began to create orchards of rubber trees. Nobody foresaw the motor car. But by the time the motor car dawned, the rubber growers had got far enough ahead with their dreams of a world entirely bicyclized to meet the first onset of the motor car.”

“And of course,” I put in, “the motor car would have been simply out of the question without rubber tires.”

“Correct,” agreed Jim. “So you see, the rubber growers and rubber importers in every case were far enough ahead to meet the demand. So science had no call to get busy and invent a substitute. Industry always leaves well enough alone. Business says, if it works don’t change it. And that is why, up until now, there has been no call to science to invent a substitute for rubber.”

“Have they really got it?” I questioned. “Don’t you think rubber, like tea or coffee, like leather for shoes and wool for clothes, is something natural-born and right and fitting? Even if they do work out a perfect substitute for rubber, won’t there always be a demand for genuine rubber tires? They’ve invented no end of substitutes for wool and cotton for clothes. They’ve got imitation leather of every description. But people still like wool clothes as the ancient Romans did, and cotton, as the ancient Egyptians did, thousands of years before Christ. And can you imagine the day ever coming when men will give up genuine leather shoes?”

“Rather than be ruined,” Jim submitted, “I imagine the rubber planters of the east will offer their rubber so dirt cheap that the rubber Importers and the rubber processors will see the chance to make a little dough; and the rubber industry will be revived. Then we’ll witness a great pitched battle between the synthetic rubber interests and the natural rubber interests. Cartels will be formed. Little gangs of British bankers and investors, desirous of cutting the throats of other British bankers and Investors, will gang up with little gangs of American bankers and investors desirous of cutting the throats of other American bankers and investors. That’s a cartel.”

“I thought a cartel,” I interrupted, “was where all the British bankers and investors desirous of cutting one another’s throats got together with all the American bankers and investors desirous of cutting one another’s throats, because it was agreed that the public was hardly worth all the throat cutting. So they ganged up and cut the public’s throat instead.”

“I guess that is a cartel,” amended Jim. “And it may well be that rather than stage a pitched battle over synthetic rubber versus natural rubber they will organize a gigantic world-wide stock company of all the natural rubber plantations. All the planters will be bought out. All the importers and processors will be bought out. And then they’ll sell the stock to the public.”

“That would be a good way to put an end to the natural rubber industry,” I agreed. “But in the meantime I sincerely hope they get through with their experiments on synthetic rubber before the tire rationing comes off. Don’t you think one of us ought to invest in one of these rubber substitute hoses?”

“Look,” said Jim. “There’s just this one summer left. Surely we can pool our hoses and get by for the next couple of months. Then, by next year, either real rubber will be back or else a first-class substitute will be available. I have the feeling that with the war still on the best substitutes are still going into war materials.”

“Okay,” I subsided. “You bring your hose over and we’ll see what we can salvage from the two.”

So Jim ran home in the car and rolled his hose and brought it over to my garden. Jim’s hose was already synthesized. Of the 35 feet he had serviceable, 20 was an old smooth-bore type of hose dating back to the year of his marriage, about 1918. And the rest was the ribbed type, part of an extension he had bought about 1926.

Mine was just the one brand. It was the old smooth-bore style and was the relic of the first and only hose I ever bought. It had three splices in it. The passing years had seen soft spots and bends and cracks appear. I cut the defective section of a foot or so out, and then rejoined the good bits with those metal tubes and rings that splice hose together.

Evening in the Garden

Jim’s had an old-fashioned bronze nozzle. Mine had a more modern nickel-plated nozzle, with a knurled section for easy turning. But the connections at both my nozzle and the tap ends were so defective that regular fountains played at both ends. I had to stand at arm’s length from my nozzle; and even so my feet got soaked.

“So we’ll use my terminal connections,” suggested Jim.

A couple of summer bachelors can spend no more profitable evening than pottering in their gardens with hoses and hoes. With a sharp knife I severed from my three-spliced hose both the nozzle and the tap connection. We attached Jim’s hose to the tap to locate the best spot in which to splice in my hose.

His tap connection was flawless. Not a drop oozed. His nozzle was pretty good, but it had only two kinds of spray – either a great heavy flood like hailstones beating the zinnias and phlox; or else a fine mist of spray that would take all night to dampen the pansies.

But it was the mid-section of Jim’s hose that really fell short. There were several soft spots, dozy, like punky wood. These allowed water to seep out. There were also several real cracks, from which spouts of water 10 feet high curved up in various directions when the tap was turned up full.

“Jim,” I said, “this looks to me like a deal you’re putting over on me. There isn’t a five-foot stretch of your hose that hasn’t got a leak in it.”

“Cut it in the middle,” urged Jim, “and we’ll splice your hose in. Maybe with a good 30-foot section in the middle, like that, the water will flow too fast through mine to leak.”

“Nonsense; the more the pressure, the greater the leak,” I stated. “I don’t think it’s worth while trying to splice yours. Wait minute.”

And I went along and counted seven leaks.

“Each of those leaks,” I pointed out, “would require at least six Inches of hose cut out. That reduces your hose by close to four feet. And seven splices would require seven splicers.”

“Oh, try it anyway,” cried Jim. “We’ve got two splicers. Hitch her up and see if we can get enough pressure at the nozzle to reach the back of your yard. If not, we will simply have to go and buy some substitute rubber hoses.”

So we squatted down and went to work on the splices. We cut Jim’s hose at the junction between the old smooth-bore and the later model ribbed hosing. Then we dragged mine up and spliced its 32 feet in between.

When we pounded the end of the ribbed iron splicer into Jim’s hose, the perished rubber split, and we had to keep on paring off an inch or two until we finally hit upon the idea of filing the splicer a little smoother.

We got it hitched at last and then Jim walked back to the tap and turned it on.

It was quite a performance. I was holding the nozzle. If I turned it to the coarse stream a wavering jet, about seven feet long, wobbled and splattered heavily on the turf, digging a hole. If I turned to the fine spray a round balloon appeared, about the size and shape of an umbrella, and most of it drifted back to me.

An Idea Dawns

But back down the hose there was a wonderful display. From Jim’s two sections seven different spurts rose and arched in various directions. From both splices angry little explosions hissed in all directions. And from my section, in the middle, one very fine spurt and two smaller ones divided the north and south about equally between them.

We stood and watched for a moment.

“Turn her off, turn her right off, at the nozzle!” cried Jim suddenly. “Turn the way for the fine spray until she goes tight off.”

I turned. And as I did so all the spurts and fizzles and splutters suddenly arched higher. And three new ones appeared.

Jim strode up to me.

“My boy,” he cried excitedly, “this has been staring mankind in the face for centuries. Ever since hoses were first invented, we’ve been enslaved by the one idea. The fire hose. The hose with one stream to be directed on one target. But a garden hose should have not one but 10 or 20 outlets.”

“Don’t you see?” he expanded, “Talk about substitute rubber and drinking tea and coffee! Why, it has taken the war to show us what a proper garden hose should be like. Instead of the human race having to stand on damp lawns, steering a silly hose yard by yard over the flower borders, we invent a modern hose, a hose with 10 or 15 little nozzles. And then, all we do is walk down and stretch the hose the length of the garden, turn her on, and then sit back in the garden chairs and watch the garden get watered properly, simultaneously and at our ease!”

“Jim, if we patent this!” I gloated expectantly.

I laid the nozzle end down, and we walked the length of the hose, inspecting the leaks. Those that were not quite big enough, I enlarged with my pen knife, until they threw a nice spurt about 10 feet.

“Cut new holes, at regular intervals,” suggested Jim.

And judiciously turning the tap on and off, we spaced our cuts at regular intervals, until we had a series of 19 jets that, with the evening breeze wavering them, covered the whole expanse of the garden.

“Think,” I said, as we sat back in the deck chairs and watched the play of the little fountains, “of the old-fashioned sprinklers. The kind you had to keep getting up every few minutes to walk over wet grass and get squirted yourself, shifting them from place to place.”

“All we have to do now,” added Jim, “when we’re through, is turn off the tap and haul the hose back in. Only our hands get wet.”

As we sat and gloated, my next door neighbor came out and looked over the fence.

“Some hose,” he remarked.

“There you see,” I informed him, “the birth of a great idea. It is going to be patented. Our fortunes are made. This is the Frise-Clark hose. Or the Frike hose. Or maybe the Clarf hose. History is being made before your eyes.”

“Didn’t you ever see a cloth hose?” inquired my neighbor.

“A what?” I inquired.

“A cloth hose that waters the ground all along its length?” he asked.

“I certainly didn’t,” I said. “But anyway, it doesn’t sprinkle.”

“Sprinkling is the worst feature of hoses,” said the neighbor. “If we could water our gardens without sprinkling the flowers and foliage, causing them to weaken and blight, but merely wetting the earth, we would have the ideal hose. And we’ve got it in the cloth hose.”

“Where did you ever see one?” I demanded.

“You could have seen one for the past three summers,” said the neighbor, “by just looking over the fence.”

Which we did. And there, draped along the flower borders and over the grass, was an earth-brown hose of cloth, originally white, he told us. And it was quietly leaking water onto the parched earth, leaving the flowers and foliage to the dew, but richly soaking the ground and the roots.

“I got it,” he explained, “rather than one of those substitute rubber things.”

Jim and I went back to our garden chairs.

“Well, anyway,” said Jim, “I like the look of ours better.”

And we noticed, at the same time, that the spurts were not quite so high.

But when we counted them, instead of 19, there were already 22.


Editor’s Note: Rubber was rationed during World War Two. Innovations in the different types of synthetic rubber was stepped up to meet demand.

Call It a Spade

By Greg Clark, April, 13, 1935

“This year,” said Jimmie Frise, “I’m going to have a real garden.”

“Me, too,” I admitted.

“A garden full of old-fashioned flowers,” declaimed Jimmie, his eye roving out the window. “Hollyhocks, zinnias, verbenas.”

“Stocks,” I said, “and phlox.”

“Sweet william,” added Jimmie, “and pinks and gillieflowers.”

“What is a gillieflower?” I enquired.

“Hanged if I know,” said Jim, “but I love the sound of them and I’m going to have them.”

“Dianthus,” I said. “There’s a swell name, Let’s have dianthuses.”

“But really,” said Jim, sitting forward and resting his elbows so that he could cuddle right down deep into the very heart of the thought of a garden scented with a hundred perfumes and glowing with color in a June evening, “really, I am going to have a garden. I’m going to put time and thought and labor on it. I’m going to plan it. I’m going to take my time about it. Usually, the way we all do is go out some evening, after supper, buy a couple of dollars’ worth of seeds and a few boxes of infant annuals, and stick them around the garden before dark. Now, this year…”

“Every year,” I interrupted, “I go through what you are going through now.”

“So do I,” confessed Jim, sadly. “But this year I am going to try and really do it. I’m going to hold grimly to my determination.”

“I remember that, too,” I remembered. “But always, some time between the fifteenth and thirtieth of April, a queer change came over me. And by the time the planting was to be done, my heart was In the Highlands or something.”

“This year,” said Jim, sitting back fiercely and crossing his arms tightly across his chest, “I’m going to do my garden in a practical and common sense way. For example, I will spend two or three long evenings digging and turning it over.”

“Like plowing.” I said.

“Precisely,” said Jim. “I was born and raised on the farm. I know the principles of agriculture. The farmer spends weeks plowing. He does not plow and plant all in one day.”

“No, indeed,” I agreed.

“So,” went on Jim, “I’ll spend maybe three long evenings spading and turning over my borders and beds. If the weather is rainy, I won’t desist merely because of the discomfort. I’ll carry right on. Rain or shine, cold or warm, I’ll spend three evenings, one after the other, spading over my garden, burying the top earth and revealing the rich undersoil, exposing it to the life-giving air and light.”

“Good man,” I said, admiringly.

“Then I’ll break it up with my hoe and rake,” said Jim. “I’ll break the lumps, disintegrating them, so that the soft living rain of April may nourish the soil. Why should a man, born and raised on the farm, be afraid of a little rain on him?”

“It’s ridiculous,” I agreed.

Violence is Necessary

“Then, with the spade work well and truly done,” said Jim, making notes on a piece of paper, “I will go out and buy a few boxes of the taller annuals. A few boxes only. It is a mistake to buy the whole works the one night. You have to hurry to get them in. No. Take your time, that is the secret. A few boxes of tall annuals, like zinnias, nicotine, and so forth, the first night. And at great leisure, in comfort and east, so that you can have time to reflect and put them where you want them, you plant them slowly and thoroughly.”

“You do, Jim,” I pointed out. “It is you we are talking about.”

“Quite,” said Jim. “Then the next night, if It is soft and pleasant for planting, get a few more boxes of the less tall annuals, stocks, verbenas, the old-fashioned marigolds.”

He pronounced it the English way, marry-golds.

“Jim,” I said, “you deserve a lot of credit. If everybody in Toronto were like you, what a city this would be!”

“Now, mind you,” declared Jim, “a garden does not consist merely of some plowing and some planting of few square yards of earth. There comes all the long and happy weeks of cultivation. The hoeing of the soil around the young plants. The watering, weeding. The regular spading up of the earth, so that water, air and light may penetrate down towards the roots. I intend, this year, to devote one hour to my garden every night, rain or shine.”

“It is noble of you,” I admitted. “If I hadn’t gone through just what you are going through so often that I have lost faith in myself, by George, I would be tempted to be inspired by you, and try to make the same resolutions.”

“One thing you might do,” said Jim, “just for your amusement, is to come over and watch me do some spading?”

“I certainly will,” I said heartily. “In fact, I might even do a little spading for you myself.”

Which accounts for the fact that two nights later, that particularly soft evening last week, I walked over to Jim’s and sat in the rustic bench while he, looking fresh and healthy, worked with a spade along his borders.

A robin singing and a man spading in April – what more lovely moment is there in all the year?

“Dig deeper,” I said, after watching Jim a few minutes.

“It is the top six inches,” said Jim, pausing in his labor. “There is no need to dig deeper.”

“I disagree,” I said, lighting a new cigarette and signaling to one of the girls in the house to bring me a cushion. “What is true of farming is not necessarily true of city gardening. The open fields of the country are subjected to violence. The great rains pound down, Gales blow across the land. The ice in spring causes great cracks deep into the earth. The freshets belabor and smash the soil. But a city garden, protected by walls and fences and houses, gets no such essential disturbance.”

“Gardening,” replied Jim, delicately spading the earth, “at its best, should be a leisurely pastime.”

“You’re just tickling the earth,” I declared. “Just titivating it, dabbing at it like a lady applying cosmetics. Dig it, man!”

“It is the top six inches,” repeated Jim.

“Now I know the reason,” I said, “why city gardens are such poor, fragile things. They last a week or two: then they are burned up in the first heat of summer. Why? Because you have just dibbled or fiddled the top few inches. You don’t get down deep, the way nature does in the open fields. To make a garden fertile, we have to tear it loose.”

Jim stood leaning on the spade.

“Sail into it,” I admonished him. “Give it what November gives the farms. What March does. Knock hell out of it.”

Jim began to dig with more resolution. He began to enjoy it. He began hurling earth in all directions.

“Now you’re shouting,” I shouted. “Whale the stuffing out of it.”

Jim paused. He jabbed the spade into the earth and came over and sat on the rustic bench beside me. I lent him the cushion.

“I believe you’re right,” he said, “I honestly think what a garden needs is a real shaking up. I never thought of that before. We shelter our garden from nature, and then expect nature to make it bloom as healthy as nature itself.”

“What a garden needs,” I assured him, “is a steam shovel.”

Jim sat up and slapped me on the back.

“Great,” he cried. “Great. I know a guy who owns a steam shovel. And it’s unemployed.”

“Swell,” I exclaimed. “All my life …”

“He was saying a few weeks ago that he wished there was some place he could dig with it just to keep it in shape. It needs exercise.”

“Get him to come up,” I cried. “You could pull it through this back gate.”

“Get him nothing,” said Jim. “I’ll run it myself.”

“Why not?” I admitted. “Go and telephone him.”

And, in five minutes, Jim came out radiant, to inform me that for $2 paid to the caretaker for bringing it up, Jim could borrow the steam shovel any day.

“I said Friday,” Jim exulted, gazing around his garden. “It is one of those self-contained steam shovels. It has its own tractor tread. It’s not one of those great big steam shovels, you know?”

“All my life, Jim,” I said, “I have wanted to run a steam shovel. Just once.”

“Every man does,” agreed Jim. “Why do men stand by the hour watching a steam shovel down in an excavation? A steam shovel is the most fascinating thing in the world. It has power, might, strength. It is power, rude power, all in the hands of one man.”

“Could I help you?” I asked.

“Certainly,” said Jim.

So Friday after early supper I came over to Jim’s in a suit of overalls I borrowed from the garage. One of my boys owned a cap such as engineers wear, and my wife put a gusset in the back of it so it would fit me. Even Jim was astonished and delighted with my appearance.

“Boy,” he said, “you look like the real thing.”

“All I need,” I said, “is a chew of tobacco,”

“We can pretend,” said Jim, shooting an imaginary squirt to one side. “Now let’s look her over.”

The steam shovel, which Jim said was a small one, just about filled the yard. It had a cabin mounted on caterpillar trends. From its top was suspended a giant rusty iron arm on the end of which was a bucket as big as a roadster.

“She works,” said Jim. “The man that brought her banked the fire for me, and I turned it on a few minutes ago. We’ll have a head of steam in ten minutes.”

Jim showed me inside, where, in a little boiler, a fire gleamed brightly and there was a sizzling and a hissing. The steam gauge trembled. There was an air of excitement in the little cabin.

Jim showed me the various levers, throttle and handles, one for hoisting, one for lowering and opening the massive jaws of the shovel. And by this time, the hot and hissing little fire had set the steam gauge trembling at the necessary figure.

“O.K.,” cried Jim. “You get out and stand well over by the corner of the garden.”

Jim tried the various levers. The great arm rose slowly and dropped suddenly with a terrific crash. The cab rattled violently, and the huge creature took half a step forward.

The great bucket descended with a crash to the earth. It fumbled and groped on the ground. It scrabbled and opened and shut. It was like a prehistoric monster mumbling the earth in pursuit of a mole. The engine roared. Steam belched. The arm tightened. The bucket began slowly to rise, rise. It rose twenty feet in the air, slowly swung northerly, and paused, suspended over the middle of the back lawn. Then with another mighty roar of engine, the jaws of the bucket opened, the bucket crashed to earth, and a soup plateful of dirt deposited in the middle of the lawn.

“Hooroo!” yelled Jim, sticking his out of the cab.

In five minutes Jim had mastered the machine. It was a noble sight. One small man the god of the machine. Once he got a little hole dug, it was no time until Jim could sink that steel-toothed, iron-jawed monster into the soil, gouge a hunk as big as a piano, close the teeth on it, hoist it up and swing it into the middle of the yard and dump it. He began to get a big pile on the lawn.

“Why not put the dirt back,” I said, “as you go along?”

“I’ll put it back on the return journey,” hollered Jim, vanishing into the cab.

And with roarings and snortings, the great clumsy pachyderm waddled inch by inch down the border, and inch by inch Jim turned it back, and then, with increasing skill, grabbed scoopfuls of earth from the pile on the lawn and laid it into the border.

“Come on up,” he bellowed from the cab.

I got in. It was hot and steamy and tangled with levers and gears and wires and gadgets.

“Now, watch,” shouted Jim, over the hissing of the engine. “You take this lever, see? Now, slowly, slowly, see? That hoists her. Then this, see? That lowers her. Then you take this one, and it makes it open and grab, see?”

“All right, all right,” I cried, for it was fast growing dark outside.

“Take it slow and steady,” shouted Jim, swinging back out of the cab.

I shoved the second lever. The whole vast contraption began to shudder and stagger. I made a quick grab at what looked like a hand brake. I felt the colossal thing begin to lurch and move.

Jim’s face appeared whitely at the cab door, his mouth open wide. But I could not hear him. I snatched all the different levers and handles one after another. I saw a small dirty rope hanging from the roof. I thought it might be the ignition. I frantically yanked it, and a piercing whistle sounded above the din and drunken clamor of the vastly lurching and staggering machine. The giant arm rose and fell. I felt the cab turning dizzily, as each lever failed to quiet it. I heard crashings and felt crunchings. But in the fumes and the vapor and the staggerings, I dared not look out. My eyes, my soul, my brain were glued to the mass of levers glittering at me in the gathering gloom.

Then, in the midst of a more savage lurch than all, Jim came through the open door of the cab, flung me aside and in an instant all was still.

“Quick,” he gasped. “Get out.”

“What happened?” I asked, friendlily.

“We’re five doors north of my place gasped Jim. “Up a hill. Across five fences. Through one garage.”

“Jim, it went wrong,” I explained. “Suddenly it went wrong.”

“If only,” gasped Jim. “you hadn’t blown the whistle. Why did you blow that whistle?”

“I didn’t know it was a whistle,” I complained bitterly.

“People will be here,” said Jim breathlessly, “any minute.”

But mysteriously, despite all that tumult and crashing and screeching of whistles, nobody came. They must have all been at the movies. Jim had lost his nerve. He would not drive it back to his yard. He telephoned his friend, and, in half an hour, the caretaker came and drove the short away down the lane and off to New Toronto through the dark and shining streets.

“Now,” said Jim, “while I inspect the damage and make an estimate of the cost, the least you can do is shovel that heap of earth out of the middle of my lawn back into the border.”

And it was midnight before I got home, all dirty.


Editor’s Notes: A freshet is flooding caused by a spring thaw.

Titivating means to make small alterations to something.

To older readers, a steam shovel, might be recognized as a generic term for an excavator, but as can be seen in the story, it was a mechanical excavator that was really powered by a steam engine. Actual steam powered machines were being replaced by diesel ones by the time this story was written.

New Toronto was a separate town west of Toronto which was later merged into Etobicoke and eventually amalgamated into Toronto itself.

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