The Garden on Garden Street

I once had a second floor study that was a true window on the world. Only an extrovert could love such a study. Through its tall arched window, I looked down on Garden Street, a fire station at one end, Harvard Square at the other, and in between, four undergraduate houses of Harvard College. Foot traffic, car traffic, fire engine sirens, conversations angry, earnest and glad all reached me from the well-traveled street below.

From my bright perch I could also see a miniature vegetable garden. It was growing on a patch of dirt on the street side of a fence that hid the opposite house. A low loose circle of chicken-wire enclosed the patch, but as a constraint it was laughable; every day the garden inched out farther onto the busy brick sidewalk.

On days when I was up early, I conducted covert surveillance of this small Eden. I saw people in a hurry turn their heads towards the exuberant green tangle. I saw some give it a wide berth, careful not to crush the tendrils that were laying claim to the sidewalk. I saw an old man bend down to finger the leaves of the squash plant, as if testing for plastic. A day care teacher with toddlers in tow stopped to give lessons in vegetables. And one day, a few minutes after sunrise, a short fellow in baggy overalls picked and pocketed a tomato.

In a long summer of watching, only once did I see the gardener. It was just after dawn when she threw a hose over the fence from the inner yard and watered for a while. Seeing her materialize like that, I knew who she was.

And I thought, What happy carelessness, to have planted a garden in a patch outside a fence. What detachment, to be doing nothing to constrain it from encroaching on the city’s bricks, to be watering only. What elemental generosity, to post no sign, no warning, but to make an offering-at-large to which noticing, admiring, touching, instructing, and plucking are all correct responses.

In this season of gardening, then, I pray:

God, make us like you, planting gardens outside fences, tending in secret, letting things grow the way they must, offering us your Eden, hoping it will turn our heads, accepting our various approaches, content with them all, whether we glance or touch, or pluck to taste and see. Make us like you. Amen.


2 thoughts on “The Garden on Garden Street

  1. Maria Anderson

    Thank you. As always, a treasure, “What elemental generosity…admiring, touching, instructing, and plucking are all correct responses…”

    It reminds me of Rilke’s advice to his poet protege, Kappus, to dare to wait for the answers to manifest in time, “Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”

    Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet

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