“I need my truck, hun… Is it still raining?” asks Matilda Honeycutt, into her phone.
She stands with a hand on her hip, radio clamoring by her side, as she waits to receive the keys to her white JMU Facilities Management truck.
“They’re just gonna have to take the commode up on the truck and load up a little mulch,” she says into the phone.
The office she waits in is lined with cluttered desks; it’s dingy in there. Matilda likes to be outside. She is one of over 602 facilities management workers, and one of 89 in landscaping, that plant, weed, mulch, water, and many other things to keep the campus’ revered beauty in tact.
The quad is one of the most highly populated lawns on campus. Justin tries to be considerate, and watch for students on the lawn before he tests the irrigation heads. On hot days, students might get caught up right in the middle of a sprinkler zone. Justin runs to turn them off, but only to resistance.
“Leave them on!” students will shout. “We want to run through them!”
Students are generally friendly to Justin and the irrigation crew. Justin is friendly back. He waves kindly and asks them how they’re doing, and minds his business. But some days, he wishes people understood his job more.
“What is it, yik yak? They’d be bashin’ us about how the water’s running when it’s raining, but they also didn’t see us doing [the job],” Justin says. “We’re not out here wasting water. We’re out here checking it, making sure everything’s running so we don’t waste water.”
The irrigation heads on the quad are 5004 Rainbirds, as Justin calls them. They drone like maracas, then putter out. Justin’s two radios buzz with requests from his supervisors, other supervisors from the landscaping department and his irrigation workers. Apparently, there’s a sprinkler head breakage at east campus. He decides to check it out.
Matilda parks the truck, bed first, in front of the warehouse’s garage. She and Caroline pile out, open the truck bed, and begin loading the bed with purple and yellow flowers. They move quickly, since the rain has subsided a bit. They don’t want to get caught in it again.
They plan to first plant the flowers in a pot next to the Student Success Center, and they hop back in the truck and are on the move.
JMU landscapers’ work is steady. They are in a constant state of maintenance, because landscaping takes constant nurturing. And at the same time, it takes months to reap the benefits of what they sow.
As we pass Memorial Hall, she points out the hyacinths that line the flower beds. She planted them in October, to bloom in May. It’s a waiting game, landscaping. But it also requires a sort of thoughtfulness that goes unnoticed.
Once Matilda and Caroline reach the Student Success Center and pot the plants quickly and carefully.
They first remove the old plants that lay dormant in the pot, and as the pot sits vacant of plant life, the campus sees a flash of what life would be like without the landscapers. As the pot sits there, colorless and filled with old dirt, its surroundings seem unkempt as well.
Matilda’s work is so subtle; and yet, could a student imagine JMU without its flowers? How would graduation be different without its hyacinths?
Matilda and Caroline quickly haul the flowers from the truck bed and begin planting hurriedly before the rain satrts to come again.
Students pass them without acknowledgement as the bright green leaves nestle into the dirt. JMU purple and gold are put of display in the flower pots, and become a part of the scenery.
Matilda and Caroline pack up and head out to the next flower pot.
Justin arrives to the sprinkler head breakage; it’s behind Chesapeake. Kent and Jeremy, two irrigation workers under Justin, are busy digging up the irrigation head as Justin pulls up in his white Facilities Management truck.
This zone is one that students walk, bike, run and even drive by everyday. It’s not a hot spot like the quad or the lawn near Duke hall.
The hole where the sprinkler used to be is filled with muddy water; Kent and Jeremy are shoveling out a clear path to resintall a new irrigation head.
“It’s pretty much our time to shine,” says Justin. Around this time of year, landscapers are “working hardcore, getting everything to the best point it can be.”
After graduation, the work continues. Matilda and Justin work an extra hour in the summer, to take care of the fragile landscape during the summer heat, and to prepare for students to return.
Once 11 am comes around, they bid adieu and return to work. Justin is headed to the quad to help out some of the landscaping crew mulch, and Matilda is headed to east campus to plant more pots.
The beauty of JMU comes from more than just the hills of the Shenandoah and the tulips planted in the pots; it’s the people who make it happen.