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The Old Man and His Snippers

by White Feather about a year ago in humanity

How an entire neighborhood was affected

By White Feather

In his seventies, Franklin Hodges missed gardening. He also missed the house that had been his home for over forty years where he used to do his gardening. He had to give up the house, though, after his wife’s death. The medical bills had decimated their savings just as her death had decimated Franklin’s heart.

Back before her leaving, whenever Franklin felt stress or anxiety or any kind of tension he would go outside to his garden. It was the one place in the entire world where he felt perfectly at peace. Within just a few minutes of gardening Franklin was quickly in a state of bliss. Thanks to the eleven bird feeders in his garden there were always plenty of birds so often as he gardened he was serenaded by bliss-inducing birdsong.

But he had none of that now.

Franklin’s wife’s name was Rose. He truly loved her and one of the ways he expressed that love was to plant a rose bush for her on her birthday each year they were married. There were forty-one rose bushes on the property. The local newspaper once did a story on Franklin’s rose garden, featuring a picture of him holding a pair of pruning snippers. Now, he wondered if the people now living in that house were taking good care of his roses.

Franklin had a little wooden stool that he carried around with him when it was time to prune the rose bushes. Before any snipping commenced on any rose bush, he would sit on his stool in front of that rose bush and just stare at it for ten or twenty minutes. To those few people who dared to inquire about this habit, he replied, “First I commune with the rose bush. I release all thinking and try to become one with the bush. I want to feel the life force in the canes and leaves and blossoms. I mentally send as much love as I can to the bush and I thank it for enriching our lives and I ask its permission to prune it. In this state of one-ness the bush tells me where it wishes to be pruned.”

He did not have many friends. Most of the townsfolk who knew him considered him to be a bit of an odd bird. (Being a bird-lover, he was oddly proud of that description.) Most of the friends he socialized with were actually more friends with Rose than they were with him. He was just part of her package. After Rose passed on, those friends all seemed to disappear.

Those old friends Franklin simply did not miss. But the roses — both the ones in his garden and the one he had coffee with every morning for forty-one years — were what he missed with every fiber of his being. He ached for that part of his life when he seemed to have everything he wanted.

Franklin missed pruning his five fruit trees, he missed planting vegetables and flowers in the spring, he missed watering his garden, he missed harvesting fresh fruits and vegetables, he even missed weeding, he missed the Autumn clean-up, and he missed cutting a pumpkin off the vine in his little pumpkin patch to give to Rose to gut and carve for Halloween.

During the right season, he also missed going out early in the morning to snip a fresh rose blossom to put in a vase and place on the kitchen table where he would have coffee with Rose.

He missed his wife and his garden and he especially missed the bliss and peace he experienced with both.

Franklin Hodges was now a gardener without a garden!

After the house was sold Franklin moved into a tiny one-bedroom upstairs apartment in the next town over. With his finances in ruin and living on his meager monthly Social Security checks, he was forced to make drastic changes to his life. To this end he sold his SUV; the vehicle which, for the last fourteen years, he had hauled countless bags of manure, gardening tools, seeds, compost, potted plant starters, and rose bushes home from the local hardware store’s gardening department. While it was sad to part with the vehicle he had grown to love and depend on, this proved to be a very fortuitous change in his life.

Franklin had always enjoyed going for walks. Before Rose got too sick for walks they had gone on daily walks together. In winter they took a walk around the neighborhood in the afternoon when it was the warmest. In summer they took their walks in the evening after it had cooled down. They always held hands as they walked and they did very little talking. Instead, they listened to birdsong, the chattering of squirrels, the rustling of leaves in the wind, the occasional barking dog, the sound of sprinklers, and, when they passed near the elementary school, the sound of children playing. In their sunset years, the sound of youth was like a tonic.

They immersed themselves in the experience of the walk. There were no iPods, no cellphones. Talking and thinking were suspended in order to become fully empty in order to allow the experience to move through them. It was a communion with life. At least that is how Franklin would describe it.

Luckily, his new apartment was within walking distance of most everything he needed; banking, Post Office, grocery store, a bookstore and other shops, a library, a convenience store where lottery tickets could be purchased, and, most importantly, a beautiful park with one hundred+ year old trees. Franklin began walking a lot more than he ever had, although much of his walking now was a chore. Instead of holding Rose’s hand he often found himself carrying several bags of groceries.

At first, Franklin slipped out of the way he normally took walks. Without realizing it, he started to do a lot of thinking while walking. And there seemed to be an endless supply of it, especially in light of everything he had recently gone through. With Rose’s sickness, then her death, then the selling of the house, then the giant yard sale he threw to get rid of everything that could not fit into his new tiny apartment, he had more than enough to think about. Plus he was now in a different neighborhood in a different town and, seemingly, in a different life. It was probably a good thing that he no longer had a vehicle so that he wouldn’t drive back to his old town to check on his rose bushes.

It was utterly imperative that Franklin have houseplants in his new apartment. He had never in his life lived in a home without plants. To not have plants in one’s home was something he could not even fathom. He brought a few plants from the house — the rest he sold at the yard sale — but he also bought a few new plants that had no connection to the past.

A lot of houseplants in a tiny apartment is not the same thing as an outdoor garden. Franklin knew this but his houseplants helped at least a little to keep him from sinking into the abyss of despair.

Before long, Franklin learned where everything was in his new neighborhood and he learned it in a more intimate way than if he had explored the neighborhood by car. He got a vague sense of feeling at home but there was something missing. Yes, the past was missing but it was gone and irretrievable. What was missing was a future. The present seemed obscured.

And then one day everything changed.

Although Franklin had sold his lawn mower, edger and most of his other gardening tools at the big yard sale, he kept a few essentials like a shovel, a spade, some buckets, and his beloved pruning snippers — the ones he had pruned his rose garden with for forty-one years. He kept the tools in the hallway closet of his apartment but he kept the snippers in the top left drawer of the dresser in his bedroom. This is where he kept all his most valuable possessions.

One warm and sunny spring day Franklin was about to go for an afternoon walk. It was meant to be just a pleasure walk but he thought he would also incorporate a stop at the convenience store to get a lottery ticket. He was about to leave his apartment when he put his hands in his pockets and realized that he had no cash on him. So he went into his bedroom and opened the top left drawer of his dresser.

That is where he kept his secret stash of money. It was not much but he had almost two hundred dollars in various denominations. He only needed a dollar for the lottery ticket so that is all he took. Slipping the dollar bill into his pocket, Franklin was about to close the door when his gaze suddenly fell upon the snippers….

A warm tingling sensation suddenly erupted throughout his body. He was abruptly light-headed. But he could not take his eyes off the snippers. Slowly, he picked them up. They seemed warm with electricity. He gripped them with both hands and held them to his chest. Closing his eyes, he was overcome with a powerful white light sweeping throughout his being. It was as though entering a divine presence. In subsequent years Franklin would describe it as a, “moment of rapture.”

It may have only been ten minutes but it seemed like an entire day in which he stood in his bedroom clutching the snippers. Finally, he closed the dresser drawer and, with snippers in hand, he proceeded to the front door of his apartment. Opening it, he then went down the stairs to the door leading outside. Once outside he stopped on the sidewalk to tilt his head back, allowing his face to be bathed in warm sunshine.

His life changed in that moment.

Opening his eyes, Franklin looked around and back and forth trying to decide which direction to start his walk into. That is when he remembered a tree on the block just south of his apartment building. It had a couple of low-hanging branches that forced those walking down the sidewalk to bend over to get under them. Taking a deep breath, he headed south.

When he reached the tree he stopped and turned around in a circle to make sure no one was watching him. Unlocking the safety lock on his snippers, he turned around again to make double sure no one was watching. Then he reached up and snipped off those two branches.

Nervously, he then turned around yet again to make sure he had not been seen. Securing the safety lock on the snippers, he put them in his back pocket. Kicking the branches off the sidewalk onto the grass, he resumed walking.

The neighborhood would never be the same.

For the next six seasons (or a year and a half as measured by calendar freaks) Franklin took his beloved snippers with him on every walk. His new neighborhood became his new garden. After these six seasons there was not a single sidewalk within a seven-block radius of his tiny apartment that one could walk and have to bend over to get under a low-hanging tree branch or a bush hanging low over a fence. It had become a paradise for seniors with a bad back. Thanks to those divine snippers, the neighborhood became a walker’s paradise.

After his snippers rapture, Franklin quickly changed his walking habits. In addition to his, “Walks of necessity,” as he called them; the grocery shopping, the banking, the Post Office, the lottery ticket buying, and all the other walks with a destination and a purpose, Franklin decided he would take three walks a day that had no destination or purpose other than keeping him connected to the world of plants and birds. It was his thrice-daily meditation.

In addition to the afternoon and evening walks that he had been taking for years, Franklin added a pre-dawn walk every morning to his daily schedule. He had never walked at that time of day before. In times past he was snipping roses and making coffee for when Rose got up. (He always got up first.)

To his excitement, he found that the hour before the sun pokes its life-giving face above the horizon is an hour exploding with life. There is not a bird in town that is not awake at that hour and singing its heart out. To his surprise, Franklin discovered that the neighborhood in which he now lived was absolutely teeming with wild rabbits at this time of day. They were everywhere. They were almost like cockroaches. There were a few times when he almost accidentally stepped on one.

He had never seen rabbits on his mid-day walks. After Franklin began timing his evening walks to coincide with the sunset he quickly realized that all the many rabbits that he had seen early that morning but which he never saw mid-day were back out around the time of sunset. He realized that rabbits are crepuscular but, more importantly, he discovered that he, too, was becoming crepuscular.

To be crepuscular means to be most active and alive around sunrise and sunset. Franklin became more crepuscular with each passing month.

He also became happier with each passing month. Back during that first walk after the snipper rapture Franklin felt joy and excitement for the first time since before Rose was diagnosed. He felt so good that once he got back to his tiny apartment he realized that he completely forgot to stop and get a lottery ticket.

Taking a minimum of three walks a day, Franklin was also becoming healthier. He started feeling younger.

One of the nice things about his early morning sunrise walk is that there were almost no people out and about yet. It was just him and the birds and the bunnies. He could carry out his snipping without being seen by anybody. After all, snipping trees and bushes on other people’s property without their permission is not exactly a socially accepted activity. Of course, Franklin noticed that most people in the neighborhood did not spend much time taking care of their yards and trees. He was doing them a favor, right?

During his evening sunset walks there were plenty of people out so he did very little snipping during that walk. But he always still brought along his snippers. All he had to do was take them out of his back pocket and hold them to get a surge of excitement.

The neighborhood was looking a lot tidier.

Many of Franklin’s walks led him to the park near the town’s center. He would take a break from his walking and snipping and sit on one of the many park benches in the park. There were a dozen park benches and he had tried them all until he found the right one. After that he only sat on that one bench.

It had a great view of several huge trees, with their thick trunks, stately branches and crowns eighty feet in the air. He could stare at those trees forever it seemed. They were “grand beings” to use Franklin’s terminology. In the early morning when no one was around he would hug those trees.

His park bench also had a great view of the children’s playground. It was a well-equipped playground with plenty of swings and slides and monkey bars and such and at certain times of the day it was filled with children playing, making that beautiful music that only playing children can make. Once, he sat on that bench for an hour and a half just watching and listening to the children playing. He was in awe and wonder of how small children instinctively know how to enjoy life. It was so natural for them.

“That’s gonna be me someday,” he said to himself.

It had been over sixty years since Franklin stepped foot inside of a church. Back when he still had friends he had told one of them, “My relationship with God is strictly personal. It’s one-on-one. I’ve cut out the middleman.”

Although he would not step foot inside a church he certainly walked past a lot of them during his walks. He could not help but notice that there were a very large number of churches for such a small town. There seemed to be one on every third street corner.

He also could not help but notice that there were six rose bushes on the side of one of those churches. He walked past them a lot and often he would stop and stare at them for several minutes. Finally, during one of his early morning walks at just the right time in the season when the bushes needed pruning, he could take it no more. Whoever was taking care of the church’s grounds were ignoring the rose bushes. Heck, if they ever did get around to pruning them they would probably do it all wrong.

So he pulled his pruning snippers out of his back pocket. He unlatched the lock as he looked all around him to see if anyone was watching. He then proceeded to prune all six of the rose bushes. (As he stepped up to the first bush a bunny rabbit that had been hiding under the bush came scampering out and hopped on down the block.)

To Franklin it was a religious experience.

Through his daily walks and his secretive guerrilla gardening, he once again experienced the peace and bliss he had once experienced in his own garden. The whole world — or, at least, that part of it he could walk to — was now his garden. There was peace and bliss to be found everywhere. Franklin’s life had become truly joyful. The birds seemed to follow him around where ever he walked.

And then came that fateful day….

After having snipped a few errant branches off of someone’s lilac bush, Franklin crossed the street to get to the park and a short rest on the park bench. The snippers were still warm in his hand.

As he stepped onto the street he heard a distant siren from an emergency vehicle. It was getting louder. Then he heard a second siren and a third and they were all getting louder.

“This must be something big,” he thought. Once on the other side of the street, he turned and looked down the street in both directions. He could see police cars with lights flashing and sirens blaring coming from both directions. He then turned and began walking down the sidewalk that led to his favorite park bench. On the other side of the park he could see more police cars with lights flashing and sirens blaring coming to a stop at the edge of the park.

“Whatever that something big is, it must be going on right here in the park,” he thought. He stopped walking and turned around in a circle. A total of seven police cars, all with their lights flashing and sirens blaring had come to a stop on all sides of the park. What he did not see is whatever was going on to bring forth such a police response.

Making a second turn-around, Franklin saw a dozen police officers walking with weapons drawn…. towards him! When they got to around twenty feet from him, forming a circle around him, they stopped. He suddenly realized that they were there for him.

A cop from behind the circle of officers with weapons drawn yelled into a megaphone, “Put down your weapon!”

What?

Again: “Put down your weapon!”

Franklin abruptly dropped his beloved pruning snippers down onto the sidewalk.

“Put your hands behind your head and get down on your knees!”

He did as he was told — although it was not easy thanks to Franklin’s arthritic left knee. In a state of utter bewilderment, he looked at the circle of guns pointed directly at him. They slowly started closing in on him again. Looking past the cops he saw that most of the residents living in houses surrounding the park had come out onto their porches to see what was going on. Some of them were pointing at Franklin.

Suddenly, he had his arms pulled from behind his head to behind his back as he was pulled back up to his feet. While one cop handcuffed him another frisked him. Soon all the cops holstered their weapons. With a cop on each arm, he was then escorted to a police car.

He was able to turn his head around far enough to be able to look back at his snippers on the sidewalk. But then he felt a hand on his head turning his head back around and pushing it down as he was pushed into the back seat of a cruiser. The car door slammed shut behind him, he situated himself on the seat as two cops got into the front seats of the car.

He then looked out the car’s back seat window to see his snippers on the sidewalk. A cop with a latex glove on his right hand was picking up the snippers with two fingers. He then dropped the snippers into a plastic bag in his left hand.

Then the cop car began moving and Franklin was whisked away.

* * * * *

Copyright by White Feather. All Rights Reserved. This is a work of fiction.

humanity

White Feather

Earthling. Lifelong novelist and essayist.

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