You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.

HERB BENHAM: Close to perfect, let's call it art

Herb Benham-2 mesquite

The best art often starts at home like this spray-painted mesquite bush.

Easter. Our finest hour and the best part of the year.

The neighborhood has never looked better. Smelled better, as the orange, tangerine and grapefruit blossoms perfume the air and make walking down the street a breathing-in-and-out delight. Everything that can be in bloom is and if it isn’t, it probably won’t be.

Green is the background color. Dark green, light green and all the wonderful shades in between.

We are doing our part too. Our houses, apartments, front steps, gardens, everything we know as home, might as well be an art project. Art for those of us who don’t sketch, sculpt or throw pots and for those who do, another blank canvas.

The fences we stained, the houses we painted, the outdoor kitchens we’ve built, the pots we’ve filled, the hummingbird feeders and wind chimes we’ve hung, it is these and a thousand things. Home may be our best shot at a masterpiece.

I was thinking about masterpieces while spray painting a small mesquite bush that I found loose on the desert floor during a March visit to Borrego Springs to visit my mom.

We were on a hike and a dead, full-of-character-mesquite bush caught my eye. I didn’t know what I would do with it and it’s usually better to leave shells, rocks and driftwood bejeweled in their natural habitat, but this time I did not. I threw the almost calcified bush in the back of the Jeep and brought it home.

I put it on the old green plastic cover on top of the Jacuzzi, the cover headed for the dump, bought a can of white spray paint and gave it a coat. The twisty brown wood turned white. The next day, after a second coat, whiter still. I can’t stop.

I don’t know if the mesquite bush will ever see the light of day and hang from a ceiling or be mounted centerpiece-style in a rusty pot, but I’m sensing a masterpiece in the making while realizing I might be the only one who cares.

Houses, and the projects they inspire, no matter how impressive they are and how much time, energy and money we lavish on them, are like grandchildren. They may be fetching, speak multiple languages at an unusually young age but grandchildren are more compelling when they are your own and you have a front-row seat in their growing up.

Houses too. Although we’d like people to appreciate our newly dialed-in backyard that has been 10 years and three blown budgets in the making, affirmation is only part of the reason that we knock ourselves out putting two coats of stain on sections of a fence 99.99 percent of Bakersfield will never see and most of the time, we won’t either.

There is something deeply satisfying about getting things right, if only for a moment. Being able to look at a backyard — and we seem to obsess more about our backyards than we do the front because we live in the backyard — and think, this is as close to perfect as it’s going to be.

It has something to do with mortality. Or immortality. Or both.

We do these things knowing that the sun, rain, wind and fog will do its business. Time and the passing of the days won’t help either but for one polished, painted and primed moment, we can call it good. Call it good. Call it art.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or (661) 395-7279.