I remember when my son was an infant and I used to carry him on my back through these streets, mapping out my favorite blocks, and that one red-leafed tree that stretched up to the sky in the thin corridor between two tudor style houses. Now I am lucky that my son still lets me walk him to the city bus where he rides to middle school with the rest of his friends amidst the commuters.
I watch as the yellow buses wend their way through the neighborhood, scooping up the littler ones for their days of learning. I admire the wild plantings on my front lawn, tamed by the unlikely presence of a rust colored mulch that was not of my choosing. I live in the back apartment, unfettered by the weight of ownership, a mere tenant, content to gather my monthly nut and hand it over to the landlord. In the winter, he saves my back on a regular basis with his snow blower. The hum of its motor makes me smile.
The other day, I saw a monarch butterfly in front of the high rise apartment building where my friend lives. It was hovering over a shrub with purple flowers that reflected the sunlight with a kind of happy glow. I wonder if it will make its way to the butterfly bush in our front yard. After all, such was the design. But I know better. You can’t force beauty like that to come to you.
I have planted many seeds in my life. Some have blossomed into plants that visit me each year like old friends. But some have simply stopped giving life. They were there, and now they’re not. When I see the fallow places in the garden where they used to rise up to greet me, I feel a hollowness inside.
My son is in middle school now, a big place with lots of rules designed to temper the violent thrusting of adolescence that is nearly impossible to control from the inside. It is a kind of 1970’s free zone, where anything that even smells like free spirit is tamped down quicker than you can say state test. For now, he is exhilarated by the newness of changing classrooms throughout the day. I am grateful that he can be restless and still feel nourished by his environment.
I am hungry for something rich and loamy. When I was younger and my back was stronger, I spent hours bent over the flower beds, my hands digging in the rich, brown soil. I miss the dirt under my fingernails, the smell of green on my face, the slow passing of minutes filled with the sounds of rustling leaves, crackling twigs, chirping birds and then, the hum and buzz and crawl of tiny life forms that gradually appear. In the early days, I opened up giant trenches in the first warm days after winter, where I placed gallon sized plants, fully matured. I created my garden like a construction worker, or a painter, enjoying my masterpiece come to life under my watchful eye.
Later, I dug small holes for starter plants at the end of autumn, and waited patiently throughout the spring and summer for them to poke up their tiny heads and grow into their full size, never quite sure of what would come up. Now, I observe the growth of my son in much the same way as a puppy who catches up with his paws. I see him as much through my future eyes as my past, tendrils of desire winding around my heart like clematis vines.