I’m Bob Hurley, an award-winning gardener with two problems, both caused by my new neighbor. It all began when he moved in last winter. I think he’s a first time homeowner since he is not very interested in yardwork. Problem number one goes like this.

My subdivision backs up to a wooded green belt, thick with trees and has a creek running through it. Parallel to the green belt is a 50-foot, grass-covered utility easement. It is part of every backyard in the neighborhood. Some yards have fences, mine does not. Regardless, the easement remains an unfenced, open space.

All manner of wildlife resides in the green belt. Some of these creatures are not desirable to have in your backyard. They are vicious and scary. Others eat my flowers. By keeping the grass on the easement trimmed, these pests stay in the woods where they belong.   For my neighbor, cutting the grass on the easement is too big a chore. After he dropped it from his yardwork list, the easement began to revert to its natural state. Now, the prairie grasses grow unchecked. A tall patch of it, close to my backyard, stands where a once normal, suburban lawn existed. The animals have started coming over from the green belt again. They hide in that tall grass, then find their way into my yard.

As bad as that is, there is another situation. I call it problem number two. I spend a lot of time manicuring my lawn and garden. As a result, I have won the “Best Backyard Award” from the Center City Garden Club for the last eight years. No one has ever won nine times in a row and I want to win again. The chance of keeping that award this year is in jeopardy because my neighbor.

He refuses my requests to cut the grasses and gives me no reason why. I’ve considered other means to get this matter resolved. I’ve appealed to the city’s weed enforcement department, but that has proved unhelpful. I can’t cut the grasses myself without trespassing. Starting an unlicensed grass fire could burn my yard.

Complaining to my wife, Sarah, I said, “I can’t get through to our new neighbor about cutting down those grasses on the easement. He didn’t seem impressed when I told him I won the ‘Best Backyard Award’ eight years running. He also was not too interested in the fact that I’m in the contest this year.”

“Bob, if he won’t cut it, call the city.”

“Already did; they said they’re short-staffed, I should work it out. You know what; I’ll come up with something. He’ll cut those grasses down when I’m done with him.”

“Okay, Bob. I don’t know what you’re thinking, but don’t do something stupid.”

“No worries; whatever I come up with will be genius.”

With that, I got on the Internet. I wondered, what would get my neighbor’s attention? Then it occurred to me; he might want to protect his kids from the green belt animals. I had a thought that might seem strange and a little cruel but I was sure it would work. First, I needed something attractive to get his kids into that tall grass, but I didn’t know what.

I was about to shut the computer down when I stumbled across an advertisement. It read:

Mueller Labs: we cultivate insects for educational and entertainment purposes. If you need insects, exotic or everyday types, we have them. Look over our stock of butterflies, ladybugs, bees, lightning bugs, and many more. Contact us at our site for types, quantities, and prices. Pick up or delivery available. All products guaranteed, subject to certain limitations.

The answer was right in front of me. Lightning bugs would serve as my lure. Remembering my own childhood, I thought, “What kid hasn’t chased lightning bugs? What kid wouldn’t?”

For $150, I arranged to buy two thousand of them. I now had the bait, but for this idea to work, I had to take a gamble. I was sure snakes and other biting animals were living in that tall grass. The lightning bugs would draw in the neighbor’s kids. I hoped the animals would do the rest.

My plan was simple: wait until dark, sneak into the tall grass, and release my luminous cargo. I expected they would spread out among the tall, green stalks. The dazzling display of flashing and blinking lights would be irresistible. The kids would see the lightning bugs and beg their parents to let them run into the tall grass to catch them. Once in the grasses, I hoped some animal would go after them.

Then, finally, my lazy neighbor, to protect his children, would have to cut down the grasses on the easement. I had to move fast, though; the judging had already begun. The prize committee would be here within the next couple of days. Those grasses had to be gone by then.

That night, after dark, I snuck into the offending grasses and let those radiant insects go. I know the kids saw them. I could hear them from their house clamoring to go outside. They rushed out into the yard and were about to run into the grasses. One more step and my scheme would be complete. It was too bad one of the kids might get hurt—they seemed so innocent—but drastic measures were in order. Now, if my luck held, some nasty critter would do my dirty work. Everything was going according to plan.

Before I could get out of the grass, the glittering lightning bugs surrounded me. The brightness of their light made it difficult for me to sneak back to my yard without detection. As I was about to get clear of the stand of grass, I felt a stinging pain in my left ankle. Looking down, in the glow cast by the lightning bugs, I saw I had stepped too close to a timber rattler. Thick and muscular, the serpent struck my ankle with a powerful bite. I tried to muffle my scream, but scream I did. The sudden cry sent the girls, who were on the cusp of running into the tall grass, back into their yard. I hobbled back home.

When I stumbled into the house, I called 911. The operator seemed concerned. “Sir, an ambulance will be there in a half-hour. I am sorry for the delay but it’s a very busy night. You could always drive yourself to the hospital, but I don’t recommend it.” In an attempt to reassure me, she said, “If you get treatment for the bite soon, it should not be fatal.” She never did tell me what ‘soon’ meant.

Sarah heard me on the phone and came downstairs. I asked her to drive me to the hospital.

“I got bitten by a snake, a rattler, while I was in the tall grass next door. I need to go to the hospital.”

“What were you doing in that tall grass on the easement after dark?”

“I told you’d I’d find a way to get that grass cut before the judging started. I took a bunch of lightning bugs out there to draw his kids into the tall grass. I figured one them would get hurt and our neighbor would cut that grass.”

Shocked, Sarah said, “You were going to hurt the neighbors’ children so you could win an award? I should make you walk to the hospital.” She hardly spoke to me the rest of the night, but I did convince her to drive me for medical help.

At the hospital, I got anti-venom. The doctor said, “The swelling, pain, and nerve damage will last a while. Soon, you should get back full use of your leg.” I thought, oh great, there’s that word ‘soon’ again.

The next day, I was well enough to stump around the yard when I heard a voice.

“Hey, Bob, did you see all those lightning bugs on the easement the last night?”

“No, I go to bed early.”

“Say, what happened to your ankle?” He seemed like he was smirking.

“Oh, I tripped and twisted it on the stairs. It hurts, but I’ll be okay.”

The girls tell me when they went out to chase the lightning bugs they thought they heard a scream. It sounded like somebody was in pain. It scared them. They ran back into the yard. I went out to look but didn’t see anything.”

I said, “That tall grass hides all kinds of things. With kids, you might want to cut those grasses down.”

My neighbor replied, “You know, when you said you had entered that backyard contest, I decided I would, too. The new emphasis this year on growing native grasses to prevent erosion gives me a chance at a prize. I’m glad I didn’t cut the grasses down.”

I hadn’t heard anything about “native plants” being part of the contest. I began to worry.

He continued, “I got an email; the judges are coming today.” I pretended I already knew.

Not long afterwards, they arrived and did their review of both yards. When done, the head of the prize committee said to me, “Bob, we like your yard, but you haven’t planted any native grasses. Don’t get us wrong; your yard is beautiful as usual. This year, though, we decided to emphasize that the American backyard needs to adapt as our climate changes. Take your neighbor’s yard. The best features are the tall prairie grasses and the native ground cover. They show his concern for the environment and pay homage to what this land used to be. His efforts are impressive. You might consider growing more native plants in the future.”            Stunned, I said, “His efforts? He does nothing while I spend hours each day tending to my backyard. He didn’t plant anything. All that stuff is weeds, spontaneous growth. Don’t all my ‘efforts’ count for something?”

The head judge looked at me, “Chemically-treated lawns and gardens are passé. Natural is the new beautiful. We’ll have a decision soon,” he said as they walked away.

A week later, the final decision came out. I didn’t win anything. My neighbor got “Honorable Mention.” To the judges, his yard was a natural, eco-friendly, family-oriented environment. I saw it as a weed patch.

When the results came in, I was despondent. Sarah, breaking her silence, reminded me of something. “Bob, our yard is beautiful. When you enter a contest like this, the judges pick what they like; it doesn’t mean it’s ‘the best.’ Any award is subjective, only their opinion. You put too much stock in these contests. If you’re happy with the way your yard is, leave it at that. You did your best, but I still don’t like what you tried to do to those kids.”

I knew she was right. Chasing that award cost me an extra 150 bucks. I also got a snake bite and hospital bill and I almost hurt my neighbor’s kids in the process.

I wondered if he had any clue what happened that night with the lightning bugs. A week after he got his award, I received my answer.

Hanging on a post facing my property was a large, weatherized copy of the “Honorable Mention” award. No matter where I went in my yard, it seemed to follow me. It was a message that, with no effort at all, he beat me. It also meant he knew what I tried to do with the lightning bugs and to his kids. That sign was also a warning: “Never try anything like that again, ever.”

We don’t talk much anymore.