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It must have been the brush pile.

For the last year, I've been looking at the heap of downed branches lying like a bonfire waiting for a flame at the edge of our front yard. A few feet closer to the curb, and a town truck would pick it up. Were a more industrious woman to haul it to the compost pile, it would not only be out of sight, but could go on to fulfill its destiny in the great circle of life.

But there it sits, front and center amid the blooming periwinkle and the indefatigable wisteria. There it sits, in plain view of the whizzing minivans and the man who walks his giant dog Jake through the neighborhood at a smell-the-roses pace each day. There it sits, along the path of the funeral procession for one of our neighbors, who died of a heart attack while tending his gorgeous, brush-pile-free yard a few weeks ago.

His yard is so spectacular it was chosen for the Spring Garden Tour sponsored annually by the Chapel Hill Garden Club. Other yards in my neighborhood are equally stunning specimens of the "southern part of heaven" (a phrase coined by one of the area's original residents, whose garden was also on the tour). Still, the quirky, upper-crusty tradition of garden tours has always baffled me. They're something other people do--people with enough idle time on a weekend to be willing to pay to stroll through the landscape creations of those with perennially green thumbs.

I never took a garden tour--and certainly never thought of living on one--until late last year, when the pansy project arrived on our doorstep. "Our neighborhood's been chosen for the garden tour!" announced a hastily assembled flyer seeking volunteers to beautify the in-between places that figure prominently in view. "Please help us plant pansies this weekend!"

I didn't help with the pansy project. (Sorry, Darri.) I didn't think too much more about the impending tour, either, until newspaper ads sprouted like so many dandelions last month. When an officious letter warning us about obstacles to driving through our neighborhood on the big weekend came in the mail, I stopped cold. My first thought was: "This is actually affecting my life, maybe I should pay attention." My second was: "Well! They didn't even ask if we were interested in participating in the tour."

I have phlox, spilling pink and lavender over my stone walkway. I have daffodils blooming yellow and a "kitchen garden" of herbs in porch pots. My azaleas are as colorful as anyone else's. How could they overlook me?

It must have been the brush pile.

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