Right Angle

I was barely keeping my balance on the very top of a step ladder, the exact spot the warning sticker tells you not to stand on. A nasty summer storm had torn through our town the week before, and a fairly large branch had broken off one of the pine trees and lodged itself in the crook of a neighboring maple. It was only a matter of time before it made its way to the ground. The tree in question was kind of tucked in a back corner of my yard where I didn't spend much time so I probably could have just left it there, but looking at it made me feel kind of depressed, like peering down through clear water at a shipwreck. A reminder of how bad things can happen unexpectedly, I guess.

As I teetered on the ladder, yanking on this pine branch that didn't want to let go of its new maple comrade, I happened to glance over my right shoulder. I'm really not sure why I did; my attention should have been focused on what I was doing. But I did it anyway, and it struck me that in all the years I had lived in my house, I had never looked at the yard from this angle. Was that strange? As a homeowner, shouldn't I know my property from every angle? I mulled this over, one hand gripping the broken pine branch and the other holding the base of the closest maple limb. Then I saw it, and my life was different, just like that.

It took me a few seconds to realize what it was, and more than a few seconds to believe it. There was a face in the grass. Not a mixture of dark and light spots that kind of looked like a face if you tried really hard, and not an actual human face that landed there from a plane exploding 30,000 feet above my house. It was a grass face, somewhat three dimensional, and it was looking right at me. We stared at each other for a minute, not saying anything, and then it spoke.

"If you're not careful, you could fall and hurt yourself," the grass face said casually. "Not supposed to stand on the top of a step ladder, you know."

"Yeah, I know," I replied. I was at a total loss for words. What does one usually say to a face in the grass? I had a feeling there was no precedent for this kind of thing. We continued to look at each other for awhile longer, that awkward silence building between us. The grass face had broken the ice, so I figured the least I could do was to keep the dialogue going.

"This branch was really bothering me and I wanted to get rid of it," I mumbled lamely. "Guess I should have gotten a taller ladder." That is really what I said. Leave it to me to be the first person in the world, or at least the first person I ever heard of, to speak to a face in the grass, and all I can do is talk about the stupid branch and my inadequate ladder. Luckily, the grass face was a much stronger conversationalist than me, and kept things flowing nicely. We passed the afternoon together.


I eventually got around to telling the face in the grass about how, just before we made eye contact, I was thinking that I had never seen my yard from this particular point of view before. We agreed that it wasn't a normal spot to be hanging out in, and if the branch didn't break off the pine tree and land in the maple tree, we would not have met. It seemed that of all the possible angles to look at my yard from, I had unknowingly stumbled upon the only one, so far anyway, that revealed the grass face. I have to admit, I felt pretty special.

Roger and I tested our theory over the next few months with a new ladder purchased for the experiment. We picked that name for him because "face in the grass" sounded sort of rude once we got to know each other better. I would position myself in different places in my yard, generally at least five feet off the ground. Roger decided that most of the angles below that level had already been viewed by me during the course of my normal activities over the years. No matter how much we searched, we could not find a second location that allowed me to see him.

"Do you think there are other faces in the grass out there?" I asked Roger one crisp, October day. The brilliant blue sky was broken here and there by drifting clouds, marshmallows floating in hot chocolate. I could feel the cold of the coming winter in the metal rungs of the ladder.

"I'm not sure, Tom," he answered softly. "I would like to think I am not the only one, but who knows? He sounded sad about the prospect of being the sole grass face on planet Earth. I quickly changed the subject to what I should wear for Halloween.


Every once in awhile we will try a new spot, but mostly we are content to just spend time chatting together. Roger has so many questions for me, and I have as many or more for him, so we never run out of interesting things to talk about. Some day I suppose we may get bored with each other, and maybe I will start looking for grass faces at the ball field or within the pristine lawns of that new industrial park. Or maybe I won't. It's hard to know what you will do once you're friends with a face in the grass.