The only thing automatic in my life is the transmission on my car. And, honestly, I'm none too happy about it. Until two cars ago, I had managed to keep buying stick shifts. But the last Subarus I wanted, they said the only option was automatic. I felt old. And unchallenged. And resigned to a life like the majority of drivers. Sigh.

I have had stick transmissions in Volkswagens and Porches, MGs and Jeeps. And many, many Subarus. The thrill is gone when I drive now. I am not required to anticipate the hill or the corner or the even the straightaway. I just drive, slightly distracted from the function of making the machine perform at its utmost level.

This applies in yet another form to my morning beverage. I don't own an automatic coffee maker. That may be because I don't drink coffee. I drink whiskey (High West, preferably, now) and I can smoke, if need be. I don't drink coffee because I don't like it. And I love tea. So many flavors and colors and aromas. I need to boil the water and steep it "just so." Add the honey. Find the perfect cup, sometimes mug. Automatic would never do.

I don't own an alarm clock. Years ago I started doing some Zen thing where I willed myself to wake up as needed. Even if I need to catch an early plane out of town. I can also turn this off when I have a day off and sleep until my body chooses to wake up. It kinda freaks my adult children out. I always hated the buzzing noise and the startle of the whole process, so I told my body to bypass that and wake up as needed.


It has worked for at least two decades now.

And my yard. Sigh. My yard. When I bought this house in 1986, I had already been leasing it for six years. I knew there was no sprinkler system but I was certain I would be installing one when things got a little better for me. And things did get a little better, but one child needed braces and another needed some extra attention to a serious break on his arm. Then, before you knew it, came college and marriages and I got sick and then they had babies and, well, here we are, decades later and I just might be the only home in Park Meadows without an automatic sprinkler system.

I used to obsess about this. I used to think my life would be complete and I would find order in my chaotic universe if only I could turn on a dial or widget and make the water appear everywhere without my being directly involved. It just might be the only automatic thing I ever craved. Coveted. Envied.

I was reflecting on my lack of the automatic the other night when I was hand-watering my yard. Which isn't much by, say, Colony standards. Or Holiday Ranch. But it is a lot of grass to turn brown each year by late July. Or sooner, given the conditions. Hand-watering (and, yes, I set up sprinklers sometimes) seems like so much work. And such a chunk of time.

I watch my neighbors' automatic systems swish on and off, late at night and early mornings. Their yards are evenly green. Lush. Mine is uneven with patches of green and yellow and even crunchy brown. And, really, just plain dirt by now. I try to water every night, but sometimes I am lucky to go out every other week.

But when I do those nights and occasional early mornings when I am in my "yard clothes" and I am holding the hose and watching the water sink into the dry, dry, dry, clay-like earth I start to lose a sense of time and place. Almost every time.

A kind of unintended meditation starts if I am lucky. I am watering. Unconscious after a spell. And my mind wanders from the present to the past and sometimes to the future. I work out problems at work I didn't realize were burdens. I compose thoughtful responses to difficult questions. I dream a bit. The grass slips away and I find myself focusing on a person and not a problem and I don't realize for moment that the lavender has now been completely overwatered.

The watering task is suspension itself. I have come to appreciate that time-out time, where thoughts tumble and jumble as they joust for a bit of attention in the crowded neighborhood known as my head.

If I had an automatic system I might not appreciate the struggling blackberry bush the same way. Ditto the lilacs. Or the surprise pansies that return. The wildflowers I scattered, wondering if those seeds would take hold and the wonder I feel when they actually do.

Don't be confused. When I hit the lottery, the sprinkler system will be the first thing I buy. But in the meantime, I rather appreciate the need to slow down the personal clock in my head that tick tick ticks without ceasing except when I slow everything down and pick up the hose and walk around my not-so-vast-but-too-large-to-hit-with-one-sprinkler yard and survey those plants I know leaf by leaf.

It isn't a bad way to consider the week on days that for a moment feel like Sunday in the Park...

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.