Lelo in Nopo
She was the last person I expected. Someone was damaging our garden. Breaking off branches. Lopping off flower heads. Pulling plants out of the ground. And then leaving them on the sidewalk or on the ground to whither and die. I imagined it being done facetiously by kids passing by. Maybe showing off to their friends, or just being inconsiderate and always needing to touch things.
But I learned it wasn't kids. And it was being done with anger and maliciousness.
I'd been working in the garden on a hot summer morning when she walked by with her dog. A neighbor woman I didn't know by name, but I knew her dogs name and recognized her from her daily walks. Never friendly, I always take these ones as a good challenge. To engage, open up, and find a little common ground and break through a gruff exterior to the sweetness underneath. I waved and said good morning, pausing in the waist high flower bed I was in, weeding, welcoming the opportunity to stand up straight for a moment, stretch my back and squint into the sun towards her. "It's a jungle in there" she said. I didn't note any humor in her voice, but instead, disdain. I laughed and agreed, because I really love jungles, and living in one would be a dream. I offered that in the hot weather we were having (weather is always a good safe topic) it keeps our house nice and cool. She scoffed a bit, and complained how hot her house is. I silently reminded myself her house is bare of trees and shrubs, but lots of asphalt parking and creosote timbers forming beds for strongly pruned hybrid tea roses. She continued on her walk and I returned to my work, bent over deep in my jungle, attempting to rid the flower bed of unwanted spindly weeds and grass.
A few weeks went by, and the damage to our street trees and plants along the sidewalk continued. It was frustrating. I wondered if pedestrians were being harassed by our plants, and took it upon myself to better prune and clean up along the walkways. We mowed, edged and blowed it clear. It cleaned up nice. It was nice before, in my opinion, but I wanted to be a good neighbor and make walking by good for everyone.
But then one day I heard it. The breaking off of branches in the garden. I caught my breath. This was the moment I'd catch the kids red handed. I'd march out there and give them a piece of my mind. Jerks. But then I saw her and her dog. The gruff neighbor who had scoffed at our jungle was the one doing the damage. I couldn't believe it. It was malicious and my hunch was right: it was being done on purpose. My heart sank a little. With sadness for what I thought was such a beautiful place, our garden, for all people to enjoy. It's a respite for wildlife, for visiting kids, and for us. And sadness for a person who walks this world with so much anger she rips at the things she passes. She wasn't a happy woman.
I was getting into my car the following week, and there she was on her walk with her dog. She saw me but pretended not to. I called out "hello there!" and waved, cheerily. She was forced to mumble something in return. I continued to engage with her. "We cleaned up the walkway really well over here! I hadn't realized it had become overgrown. And you know, I saw you the other day," I said to her. I imagined the blank stare coming my way from behind her sunglasses. I gestured to ripping and breaking while I continued, "I saw you breaking off our plants here in our garden, I want you to know I saw you, and I need to ask you to not do that again. If we need to prune things back, just let me know, but please stop it." She was dumbfounded. I smiled and wished her a good day as I got in the car. I meant it. I hoped she could find some beauty in her day, because her life must be pretty hard being angry all of the time. Can you imagine the dialogue that must go through her head? I wish her peace. The garden gives me enough of it to share with others, I'd just rather not do it through broken branches and lopped off flower heads, but instead through kindness, shared conversation, or a simple hello, neighbor.
I wrote a little something the other day to a friend, about the gifts the garden is giving this time of year. So much to be done.
Having longer days, full of sunshine, to do it in.
It's coming alive, and so am I. I breathe deeply, hold, and exhale deeply.
If I do a long scan on the garden, the list of to-dos is endless. When I begin to pull weeds and unwanted seedlings (aren't unwanted seedlings weeds, et tu brute?) I can feel the anxiousness rise in my chest. My eyes dart a little further to the left and right, and the work is overwhelming. So much.
How can I possibly get all of this done? In the past, I've just given up and walked away, telling myself my garden is a cottage garden, meant to be imperfect and flouncy. But that's giving in to it.
Yesterday I found myself head down in a bed full of weeds and errant tall grass (ugh!), and I talked myself down. "Stay in your lane, stay present, stay right here with only what's in front of you." And I smiled. These are life skills. When my workload is full, I stay with just one item on my list and focus only on that. And so it is in the garden. I stayed present. I smiled to myself. I only did what was immediately in front of me, and not with anxious frustration, but with gratitude for recognizing what was going on. The gift is to be present, right then and there. To rid just that 3x3 foot section of the numerous seeded daisies, grass and unnamed weeds (those ones with elastic roots). To feel the sunshine on my shoulders, the needed stretch in my tight lower back, and a life that affords me a work break to spend this time in the middle of the morning on a weekday in my garden. This gift was so much better than this morning's gift a stranger left in our parking strip: an overflowing dirty diaper.
Two weeks ago one evening, AdRi jumped from her chair in the living room and out the front door. Two boys had ridden their bikes through our front garden, and not carefully, either. Of course they didn't stop when she called out to them, and the fritillaria that was preparing to bloom was toppled and smashed, plowed over by their flying-through-the-air BMX bikes. She brought in the blooms and they've been slowly opening in a vase on the kitchen counter.
Fast forward to last evening.
We were working in the garden, and heard the familiar sound of a lawnmower being pushed down the street. Two kids were offering their services, door to door, for mowing lawns. Funny thing, they seemed to not be coming up to our house with a sales pitch. Hell yes I want someone to mow the exterior of our house: it's a pain. We live on a corner, and beyond the garden, the only grass besides a small backyard patch is the unwieldy green mane in the front and side along the sidewalk. Being Spring in Portland, it grows about 5 inches a week. And I'm not overstating that. "$20?" they offered. "$10" AdRi countered. And they had a deal.
After they finished, they may have been asked if they were the same boys who had ridden their bikes through our garden. They may have looked stunned and like two deer caught in the headlights of a car at midnight on a dark country highway. They may have said of course it wasn't them. We may have known it was exactly them. And we may or may not have two BMX bikes smash through our garden again. We'll see.
22 years ago today I awoke early and abruptly, but familiarly. An earthquake was shaking my futon, and having recently moved from California, I knew exactly what it was. Strange though, I thought I had left those behind when I moved to Oregon. It was a light one, and I went back to sleep. But my phone rang. Students at the conservative Christian college who had never left Oregon were shaken and scared, bewildered by what had just happened, calling me as their residence director for answers or I-don't-know-what, support? It was Spring Break, and only a few were in the residence halls, but I calmed them down and explained it was a very small quake.
Having lived in California all my life, this "Spring Break Quake" was a wee one, in my books. My very first memory is of my mother chasing me around in my crib during an earthquake. My crib had wheels and the linoleum floor of my bedroom made the perfect racetrack for a wayward crib in the middle of the San Fernando Earthquake. That one, at 6.6, was a rocker, shaker and a roller, and we didn't live far from the epicenter. In my memory, I'm standing in my crib, holding on to the frame, and my mom in her nightgown is chasing after the crib as it rolls across the floor.
Duck and Cover was a familiar drill at school in earthquake preparation, instilling a fear of those big plate glass windows that gave us views of the Southern California sunshine and eucalyptus trees. At home, we ran to a nearby doorframe, most often awaken from sleep. If we weren't sure if it was an earthquake or not, I knew to look at a hanging light fixture to see if it was swaying: that was the tell-tale sign of an earthquake. After a rocker, dad would check the ceiling crack in the dining room to see if it had grown. I suppose it was our own personal richter scale.
In October of 1989, I was deep in the basement studios of the communication building at Chico State, working in an audio booth, manually slicing reel-to-reel for my radio production course. When I left my soundproof studio, the air felt tense in the hallways, and something had changed. I heard "earthquake" mentioned and knew it had been a large one. Most of my fellow students at Chico were from the Bay area, and the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 was a major one. For days, television news was constant and run from backup generators in the studios, the reporters wearing the same clothes and eventually becoming frazzled. Phonelines were down, and reaching family was difficult for many of the students. The quake was captured live on television during the World Series at Candlestick Park, and the images of the Bay Bridge buckled and warped will be forever in my mind. Aftershocks hit for quite sometime in the following months and years, waking me from my sleep with sharp jolts, and sometimes even rolls. My last California quake hit Ferndale in 1992, and even in Chico we felt it. Later that same year, I moved north to Portland, a land of moss, rain, thinking I had left the earthquakes of my first 25 years behind.
My first winter here, it snowed epic amounts, much to my surprise, and in the spring, the ground shook with a 5.6 earthquake. As I admired for the first time the giant magnolias blooming, I gazed up at brick chimneys crumbled by the quake. As daffodils and tulips bloomed in the vivid green environment I was newly experiencing, I saw the melding of my past and my present, and realized that the earthquakes had followed me. They will always be a part of my life.