Friday, August 11, 2006

Gifts From The Lawn

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

Sarah picked crayons here and there from the front yard, along the edges so she wouldn't trample the wax and upset her father. The front yard was his for show and the back yard was hers for play. That's why she had to sneak her crayons from the front. She crumbled the back to pieces.

Sarah had a crayon deal with her cousin, Ellen, in Oregon. Oregon grew lots of yellows, and Sarah loved lemon yellows. The only crayons around these parts fell in the burnt umber range, so deadly dull that Sarah might have wept if it wasn't for her crayon network. Besides certain yellows, Sarah regularly received lavenders, light blues, and navy blue which was her most prized possession. Navy blues came from Scandinavia and just the postage for a handful of them was two weeks of Sarah's allowance.

She tried planting a navy stub in the backyard once, in order to grow her own. But nothing ever came of it. Her father said it had to do with the soil and the climate. Even if it did take, the thick roots of their burnt umber lawn would probably choke the navy before it could bud.

Sarah's life changed when she read an excerpt from the first chapter of Darwin's "Origin of Species" aloud in class. As soon as she got home she cleared a couple of patches in the backyard and started segregating her russets from her sepias, digging them up by the roots and transplanting them to their own corners of the yards. On weekends she and her mother frequented nurseries and garden shows for samples of slightly darker and lighter shades. At nine years old Sarah became a crayon breeder. By twelve she was a savant of artificial selection and had her own booth at the local shows, selling shades that many people had never seen before.

She sent checks along with her shipments on the crayon networks, asking for local soils and climate data. As Sarah's business grew, so did her color palette. By the time she was forty, she offered gift boxes of crayons in all the major department stores. Her company, Gifts from the Lawn, was the first to offer scarlet, a color native to Brazil and previously thought to be unattainable in a pure, never-melted state.

Sarah retired from the running of her company at forty-five to pursue her other horticultural interests. In the evenings, after a long day's work, she'd relax in her study with a stack of coloring books from forty years ago. With all seven thousand hues of her company's crayons spread across the floor, she filled in the white areas in all of her childhood books.

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