Respite

photo-38My garden. All weekend at the end of a week of exams, papers, labs, extracurriculars. Parent teacher conferences. My garden, in a community garden, a plot of earth, mine for awhile. Mine to tend as I would.

Sidewalks were demolished somewhere else on campus to make room for a new complex. Social Sciences, I think. Each day, workers dumped the debris in a cargo container across the street from the garden. The garden was on the fringe of campus. In more ways than one. Each day, I took a wheelbarrow from the common shed and recovered slabs of clean white concrete, broken exquisitely into random shapes and sizes. I built a garden wall. I built a stone path. I built a stone bench out of the largest piece, more than two feet long. I moved them all myself, a piece at a time. I leveraged the large bench slab like I was building pyramids.

The garden had roses. Old ones. White, rambling English roses that smell strongly and sweetly. Blue roses, or the closet thing that passes for. Ruffled and unruly, these were. Abe Lincoln roses. Long stemmed, deep red, bold blooms. These, people stopped to ask about. As if the dew drops captured on the petals were bred into the strain. These roses were perfect. They all were.

And cucumbers. I canned my own pickles with garlic and dill from the garden. The mustard seed I may have borrowed. Anise grew wild. The yellow blossoms made perfect, devil-may-care bouquets. Oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme. A variegated lemon tree. Even a small pine. Tomatoes. Usually stolen by birds and the local underground gopher inhabitants. Strawberries, and everything else. Everything else you would plant in a year-round garden.

I confess, my favorite part was turning a new bed, digging deep in the earth, folding in compost. Creating fertile land from hard-pack tarmac. That, and watching the newness every morning. Nothing I grew was in rows. Tomatoes were bedfellows with garlic, and so forth. We did not stand on formality. We were egalitarian and cherished diversity. Within flower beds. It was an idea I saw as a child at the Pilgrim Plantation. The docents demonstrated that Native Americans had planted more naturally, whereas Europeans were all in for rows and columns. Eventually depleting the soil. I kept that idea.

photo-39At the end of the day, tools rinsed and set to dry, compost heaped, the cicadas would start their song and I would leave with a basket of the day’s harvest.

On some days the haul would go into soup. On others, maybe I had made bread. Maybe a pot of spaghetti. Maybe a dozen friends, children laughing, fighting. Butter and bread and soup. Or garlic bread and spaghetti. The calm of the sky above, returning to family, to laughter, to teasing. Digging bare hands into wet dirt to set a new addition into the ground. Chatting over fences with neighbors. Home.

These things mattered.

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