Friday, June 15, 2007


By day Matthew J. Weismantel is the Senior Director of Campus Information Services at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He graduated Cook College Class of 1985 and Graduate School New Brunswick Class of 1990. He is a respected university administrator and an innovator. He is a well known and highly-acclaimed professional in his field.

Matt Weismantel is also our neighbor in Freehold, New Jersey, along with his wife, Natalka and his son Leo. Matt has been a leader in the community, involved in numerous community organizations, etc. Matt is ever present as a helpful friend, always bringing the extra table and chairs for outdoor events, always ready to help clean up. Dom and I and our two boys have spent much time with the Weismantels. Matt likes to make light of my love of wine and my hours spent writing. And I am amused by his many hours spent gardening. Matt is one of the most knowledgeable gardeners I have ever known.

In short, Matt and Natalka are good neighbors and good friends.

One weekend, Matt and Natalka and Leo came out to help on the farm. It was an incredibly nice gesture considering that they were donating a weekend of their free time to help us out in a series of unenviable tasks. Leo and the boys get on fine - like brothers - so our boys were thrilled. Natalka helped Dominique in the vineyard and Matt became a whirlwind.

He came out dressed in shorts, with heavy work gloves and a big floppy hat to guard from the sun. Matt is fair-skinned - he doesn’t tan so much as instantly turn bright pink and burn. And he armed himself with a small saw, large clippers, a tree trimmer, and a chain saw. He was to the botanical environs, in truth, the grim reaper.

Matt told us the property was nice but that the canopy needed to be lifted. I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. Our property was beautiful. He said it was overgrown, and that his job was to put nature back in it’s box, so to speak. I wanted a few branches felled, ones that were in the way, so I played along. Any help when you buy a fifteen acre farm is good help. I had another one of my projects I was working on, so I left him to his own devices.

That weekend, there was not a part of the property that didn’t look like a mini tornado hadn’t suddenly whiplashed through. There were felled tree branches littering the entire property as if hurricane Agnes had suddenly visited only our little spot of heaven.

High, low, big, small, branches of all types and shapes and sizes were strewn everywhere. In front of the house, behind the house, out by the barn, over by the winery, down by the front of the road, in the orchard. There were whole trees downed.

“I’m going to cut all of this and thin this out and bring it back under control,” he might say, or, “I think you’d be better off without this one over here,” he would ay another time.

For our part, Dominique and I walked around with our eyes wide open in shock. He was mad. He was nuts. “What the hell are you cutting that down for?” I might ask. “What are you doing to that poor tree?” I would say another.

Then, at the end of the first day, me, Matt, and the three boys loaded up the $850 truck with four or five massive bundles of dead trees and tree limbs and began a giant burn pile at the back of the farm. Each trip, the truck was so heavily and fully laden that we would scrape the bottom of the truck somewhere along the route, and we could barely see out the front windshield.

By the end of Saturday though, I had to admit, I could see him imposing his will on nature in a way I hadn’t thought to. I could suddenly see the vineyard from the backyard and the winery, where you couldn’t before. And he had indeed raised the canopy, the lush, green overhang of the trees, to a more park like quality. There was a little more light all the way around. The farm suddenly wasn’t looking so over grown.

We took Matt, and everyone else, out and treated him at our friend Martin’s Dairy Queen in Ghent, where we bought him a cherry coated vanilla cone. It was a favorite boyhood treat of his, which he had not had in years. He was so happy. It’s the simple things.

But the next morning, Matt was back at it, dressed in his garb, armed to the teeth. We thought Saturday was fine, that he had completed his cleaning of the Agean stables. Instead, he began cutting down with the same kind of fervor. “You have to push nature back into its box,” he would say. By now, Dom and I were actually a little worried. He was going too far. Sunday, the property was again strewn with yet more trimmed limbs and two more felled trees.

This man, whom I thought was my friendly good neighbor, was nuts! He was killing everything in sight. The Dr. Mengele of botanical world. At one point, I was so upset, I said to him, “Just remember, you cut it down, you haul that crap to the back of the farm yourself!” Matt laughed, and continued to cut.

By the end of the weekend, Matt had cut down enough to start another small national forest, the testament of which could be found in the back of our property, which was now firmly planted with a burn pile the size of a large cape cod house.

When they left, he laughed at us, and told us how we would begin to see he was right. They drove off, Natalka and Leo and Mad Matt. And we thought to ourselves, wow, who knew. He was a different person with some kind of cutting implement in his hands. He was nuts.

But that night, we walked through the farm with the dogs, just me and Dom. And suddenly, I hated to admit it, the farm was starting to look noticeably different. It looked more kept, more coiffed. I couldn’t believe it - that nut job who had cut down all my trees was in fact right.
So, the Weismantels were invited back. And every time they come, he dons his odd outfit, arms himself with his tools of death and destruction, and goes out, cramming “nature back into its box.” And we buy him another cherry Dairy Queen cone.

And its funny, I will see him back in New Jersey, and he is still the quiet, good neighbor, in Freehold. A professional in the academic world. And I think to myself, “Hmmm, nobody knows about that other side. The mad side.” He’s like some kind of X-man or something - mild mannered college administrator by day, and on the weekends a mad man with a saw in his hands.

Of course, the irony of it all was when Matt and Natalka (and their son Leo) arrived again this spring. I was prepared, and looked forward to his arrival. I told him he could do again whatever he saw fit. I now believed in his infinite wisdom. The place looked great after his last visits, so we were looking forward to a new year of his botanical carnage (or sculpting, if you will). But he cut down only one truck full. And there were several times when I implored him to cut things down, and he ignored me, or old me flat out no.

"How about those two limbs?" I asked.
"Why would you cut those? They're perfectly fine?
"How about cutting down that one?"
"Why would you do that to that poor tree?" he responded. I was begging him to cut.
"What ever happened to shoving nature back into it's box?" I asked.
"I've got it under control," he said confidently, and ignored me.

Thank you Mad Matt.



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