Sunday, April 12, 2009

Rites of Spring

It’s that time again, when the air is warm enough to walk outside in your shirtsleeves. At this time of year, the park below my window is more often than not filled with city folk anxious to spend an hour or an afternoon, anywhere but inside their apartments. The winter is long and dark in this part of the world and Spring is much anticipated. This weekend many of the neighbors have shuttled off to the mountains for a final fling on the slopes, while others are at the shore hoping against hope for a warm day by the water.
Me, I don’t have anywhere I want to go other than into the garden, to putz around in the dirt, in the mini-world of withering daffodils and regal tulip stems and greening rose bushes. Nearly every morning I fill the wheelbarrow with garden tools and watering cans and roll over to the two flower beds I have husbanded through the winter to see what has sprung up or blossomed overnight. Gardeners will know what I’m talking about – the rest of you will think I’m a bit daft – but the world of the garden is a world of its own. The trick is to tighten your focus, think small, and get down into the dirt for a spell.
A garden is filled with life and none of it talks back to you or gives you attitude about not being able to conjugate the German version of the verb “to be” in all its various and completely mind-numbing variety. The inhabitants of the garden are grateful for your attention, happy to see you each morning when you feed and clean and water them, when you pick the broken shards of last-night’s beer bottles from between their leaves, or remove the soggy, half-filled containers of take-out Chinese food from under their stems, or rake away the piles of cigarette butts that singed and burned them through the course of the night as the local revelers sat or stood or collapsed drunk upon their leaves and blossoms.
Being a gardener in the city presents special challenges. It’s one thing to have a garden on your balcony or in your back yard – it’s another thing entirely to tend to your little green universe when it sits smack dab in the middle of the city, in a public park, in the most favorite late-night drinking spot in town.
I’ve been looking forward to Spring. I don’t know how many more dull, gray days with occasional afternoon or evening showers I could have taken. At the same time, the gardener in me was anxious. With the sunny days and warm nights comes the inevitable migration of the barbarians. Like many of us, they have spent the winter hold up in front of their TV sets, lusting after Germany’s Next Top Model, and counting the days until they can once again do their drinking out in the streets where it belongs.
For the city gardener these first warm days mark the start of the body count that will continue through the Spring and into Summer and late Fall when once again folks will retreat back into their homes to fatten up for the coming year. Every morning when I roll that wheel barrow home, it is filled with the casualties of the previous night’s entertainments. A handful of tulips that will never see the light of day, branches and stems and seedlings that barely had a chance to green before they were trampled or bathed in stale beer or Jagermeister.
There’s no rhyme or rationale to it – some perish and some survive. Even the flowers stuck deep in the garden away from the perimeter, the ring of death, where the revelers plop down each night, aren’t necessarily safe. A wine bottle tossed back into the green can be a deadly missile, tearing off body parts or crushing the very young.
But there are also survivors, like this one small, wild rose, which for some reason has withstood season after season of the onslaught more or less intact. It is a straggly thing, with branches shooting here and there, it’s a mess really, but I am reluctant to prune it or do anything really other than give it a drink now and then. I don’t want to mess with its Mojo.
The sun is up and another Spring day is about to begin. It’s also the weekend so I’ll have a little more time than usual to tend to the plants. I don’t know what I’ll find when I go out there this morning, how many casualties from the previous night I’ll find. But chances are most of the garden will have survived to see another day. It’s Springtime after all and the flowers are happy for the extra hour or two of sunshine in which to bathe and grow and live another day.

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