The Gardener, the Salsa, and a Day at the Ranch

Once Upon a Time... A Gardener's Daydream
The Gardener, the Salsa, and a Day at the Ranch
Article by Rich Showalter
Copyright 2003 by ProGardenBiz
ProGardenBiz, an online magazine

This is a tale of a landscape contractor and his quiet getaway
in the mountains. Now, I'm no gardener myself, but I swear that
this is the true tale as related to me as we relaxed on the
front porch on one of those long, summer days spent with a cool
one and watching our neighbors mow their lawns.

Rachel Louise Carson authored the book "Silent Spring" alerting
mankind (which includes you gardeners and landscapers) to the
long term destructive results of certain pesticides and toxic
chemicals. From my own personnel experience and observation, I
wish to add one more insidious ingredient to the expanding list
of dangerous substances polluting our gardens. It is called
"salsa picante" or "salsa muy caliente" (Hot sauce to you

Long, one of the favorite lunch choices of many a landscape
contractor and gardener, you may want to read on... there is
more to that salsa then you've been told.

An obscure legend suggests that the Aztec God of Fire captured
the essence of salsa from the bowels of a raging volcano when
a high priest prayed for a cure to cleanse the Aztec people of
plague sweeping the land. The priest placed a single drop of
salsa in the food bowl of every inhabitant. The plague vanished
from the land and so did the Aztecs!

From personal experience, I know better than to touch the stuff
(as you will soon see), but my landscape crew often indulges.
I've related this story to them on many a landscape job, but
they laugh it off, much like Boy Scouts around the campfire
hearing the scary tall tales. Unfortunately, this tale is

One Friday night not long ago found us rolling toward the
family diggins in the mountains near Julian, CA. After a hard
week of building, planting gardens, and irrigating lawns, I
was ready for a relaxing weekend at the ranch... building,
planting gardens, and irrigating lawns. After two years the
house and surrounding landscaping were nearly half done.

We were almost there when my wife Gerry, the blanket burglar,
wanted some Mexican food. She should have married a Mexican
chef (or gardener in my case) because her craving for the
stuff is almost insatiable.

I said, "No."

She replied, "I will invite mother to spend another month."

I said, "Oh."


Poor old Cricket, our midget female drip-dry dachshund, was darn
near catapulted through the window by a 90 degree turn into
"Pancho's Taco Y Salsa" stand.

Pancho asked me, in broken English, how much hot sauce I wanted
for the beef and bean burrito. I told him a half dozen of those
little plastic tubs would be fine. They look like miniature
"maintenance free" batteries made of the same materials.

The expression on his face can only be compared to a war movie
where the pilot of an enemy plane dives out of the sun on the
helpless victim. He put on a pair of heavy leather gauntlets,
welder's helmet, and reached for a pair of long, steel tongs.
A lead lined steel box was set in the concrete floor with a
radiation alert label on the lid. He reached in with the tongs
and removed six tubs; neatly dropping them into my bucket, as
I jumped back to avoid flying sparks.

On the way out, I glanced over my shoulder at Pancho who was
stenciling a new miniature American Flag on a board hanging from
the wall. This guy was an ace many times over, judging from the
number of flags that covered the board.

I pointed the old Chevy pick-up for the mountains again with my
window rolled all the way down, as Gerry, the masochist, tears
streaming from the cherry red eyes, happily munched on her
burrito. Cricket had buried herself in a pink asbestos blanket,
knowing that a careless spark striking her fur coat could
transform her into a crispy critter in a flash.

What happened next was my fault. Normally, after arriving at the
ranch, I bury any unused salsa tubs in the open field, six feet
under and 100 yards from any living plant or critter. It's the
closest thing to a toxic waste dump in these here parts. I
should have known better because despite many years as a
landscape contractor I have never been able to get a lawn, a
tree, or any kind of plant or flower to grow on that spot. I
hope the critters who make their home here will forgive me

When I first saw Snuffy and Stumpy together they reminded me of
Laurel and Hardy. They are a pair of grey field mice who are
roommates sharing the bottom file drawer located in the garden
shed. Snuffy was so named because he has hay fever all year
long; and Stumpy for obvious reasons lost his tail in a
hunting accident. He was being hunted by Russell the rattler at
the time, who misjudged the opening that Stumpy was squeezing
through. Old Russ was pretty sore, having broken his nose and
fracturing a tooth with nothing to show for it except an inch
of Stumpy's fat tail.

After we settled in and before the pick-up was cold, Snuffy, led
by Stumpy, made a thorough inspection of the cab looking for
tidbits and scraps of food.

Stumpy was the first to spot the eerie pulsating light emanating
from the glovebox. Upon inspection, he came across a single tub
of salsa that I had forgotten to bury. Being somewhat of a
selfish glutton, he tore open a corner of the tub and gulped
down the whole thing.

Too late, he realized he must have gotten into what the humans
call "a stash." Gasping for air, he could not imagine human or
beast snorting and shooting this stuff into their bodies. By
now, Stumpy was deaf and blind. Little Snuffy took his friend
by the whiskers leading him toward the garden shed. With only
25 feet to go, Stumpy gave up the ghost, rolling on his back
with his little fat feet pointing toward the moon, that great
orb of cheese where he would rest for eternity.

Snuffy dashed for safety when he heard Russell, who had been
attracted by all the noise, coming out from under our old
riding lawn mower. He rattled to himself with unexpected
pleasure as he realized his good fortune. Dessert and settling
an old score in one gulp!

Russell would be missed around the ranch. He had just entered
his ninth season, helping us to keep the varmit population in
check and scaring the wits out of trespassers by hissing and
shaking his tail at them.

Over the years he survived a blizzard of caliber .223, .38,
.308, 11 buck, .45, rocks, bottles, bulldozers, lawnmowers,
dunebuggies, and dirt bikes, but it was the sauce, disguised
in a FAT MOUSE BURRITO, that finally got him! He was the best
security snake I ever had.

Elmer, the golden eagle, couldn't believe his good fortune
either when he spied Russell from 2,000 feet. They had grown
up together, but were mortal enemies knowing that someday one
or the other would eventually succumb to fangs or talons.

Elmer was suspicious because by this time of the morning Russell
should be resting under a rock or in the wood pile at the back
of the garden. Elmer, who fancied himself as a hot shot flyer,
cut power and lowered his flaps as he circled above the cold,
hard body of Russell who was stretched out stiff and rigid on
the lawn, looking like a three foot long rolled taco.

Elmer wasn't as sharp or as aggressive since he lost the
territorial dispute with the Sheriff's ASTREA helicopter last
spring. Most of his feathers have grown back, but he still has
dizzy spells from time to time. Ah, but that is a story in
itself for another time.

Elmer suddenly swooped, throwing caution to the wind, making a
fast snatch and grab on the rolled taco that once was a very
handsome red Diamondback buzz tail.

Twenty minutes later, while cruising at 5,000 feet, Elmer's
eyes began to cross and a fire suddenly erupted in his tail
section when he began to feel the full effects of the
combination plate lace salsa.

The end came swiftly, as he spun into the lawn near the garden
shed. At the last possible second he managed to spread his wings
enabling him to crash land near the riding lawn mower. He tore
up 30 yards of grass, leaves, and mud before coming to a halt
upside down.

The impact saved Elmer's life. The force of it knocked the air,
Stumpy, Russell, and salsa right out of him.

When Elmer regained consciousness, he managed to hobble over to
the pond, with the aid of a broken tree branch under one wing,
to put out the fire in his beak.

Coy, the coyote, at first thought he had seen a meteorite
because he had never seen an eagle up close before. He could
eat anything, and often did just to survive, but this bird
looked and smelled bad. "Yucka!"

Elmer threatened to brain him with his tree branch crutch if he
came one paw closer. Coy decided he wasn't THAT hungry anyway.
He did an about face, scratching dirt and grass from the lawn
all over Elmer like any sensible animal covering up a mess,
before trotting off across the lawn.

Elmer eventually recovered to become a reborn vegetarian and
anti-helicopter activist.

Mother nature (aided by my gardening skills) required a full
season to purge the lawn and garden of the awful evidence that
claimed two critters and nearly a third. Gerry wanted to move
the half-completed house to another site, to avoid the large,
blackened and charred area of dead ground that was now part of
our front lawn. I stood firm, though. Two years of construction
workers tramping back and forth over our landscaping was enough.
Besides, the half-life on salsa is fairly short.

Meanwhile, yup, back at the ranch, Snuffy adopted a new
roommate, Augie and they moved into the newly completed
greenhouse. Gerry insisted that the dead area be covered over
and the greenhouse was just the thing to bring life back to that
part of the landscape. Augie's sort of a clutze so they
compliment each other. Rastus, Russell's cousin, moved into the
garden to take over Russell's old job; and Pancho's was closed.

The Fire Chief told Pancho they would let the old stand burn to
the ground next time, after putting down the sixth incendiary
fire in as many months. On top of that, the insurance company
tore up Pancho's policy; and the Environmental Protection
Agency launched an investigation. It was too much for Pancho
who returned to the land of his ancestors, the Aztecs.

And our house? Well, even though we managed to cover up the
damage of the salsa environmental attack with a brand new
greenhouse and refurbished lawn (ain't sod great!), the house
is still unfinished. Not to worry, though, our ranch is a work
in progress that takes me away from the hubbub of my landscape
business... so I can get involved in the hubbub of doing the
same landscape and construction work for myself that I do for
others all week long.

Well, that's the tale. My neighbor is indeed a real landscape
contractor with a large grounds maintenance company. I've been
to his ranch a few times and can confirm that the place exists
as described, greenhouse, lawn, grounds, unfinished house and
all. But as he related this story to me, on that hot, summer
day, he had a strange twinkle in his eye. So, is it true? I
can't say for sure, but after a chance meeting with Rastus by
the riding lawn mower, I'm willing to believe it.


About the Author:

Rich Showalter is a Contributing Writer for ProGardenBiz
Magazine, an online magazine for professional gardeners and
landscape contractors. Once Upon a Time... A Gardener's
Daydream is a regular feature in ProGardenBiz Magazine. Visit
ProGardenBiz to find out how you can get a
free subscription, start-up guidance, business ideas and
inspiration at

You have permission to publish this article electronically or
in print, free of charge, as long as the bylines are included.
Must be published complete with no changes.
A courtesy copy of your publication would be appreciated.

About the Author

Rich Showalter is a Contributing Writer for ProGardenBiz
Magazine, an online magazine for professional gardeners and
landscape contractors. Once Upon a Time... A Gardener's
Daydream is a regular feature in ProGardenBiz Magazine. Visit
ProGardenBiz to find out how you can get a
free subscription, start-up guidance, business ideas and
inspiration at

Rich Showalter