Tuesday, June 06, 2006
When I was a little girl, we lived two doors down from an elderly couple named the Zimmermans. (I think. I'll have to check on that with my mom.) They lived on a corner lot, so when we went for family walks around the block, we would pass their backyard and it's beautiful, wonderous, fantastic garden.
I'd never seen anything like it. I'd seen farms, of course, but nothing like this in a backyard. There was no lawn at all in the Zimmermans' back yard; it was entirely vegetable and flower beds, some raised, some not, with gravel-covered paths between. There were little fences around some beds, and stakes and tomato cages in others. And oh, the bees! They were everywhere, buzzing around the entire yard. Why did the bees like this yard so much, I wondered. Why were there so many more here than anywhere else?
It was overwhelming, a riot of green, and of smells, and of butterflies flitting from flower to flower. It wasn't perfectly-groomed like the Chicago Botanical Gardens I had visited many times - this was a working garden, a living garden. It was in all possible ways different from any other yard on the street - it looked different, it smelled entirely different, it even sounded different. I wanted to stop and stare. I wanted to hop the fence and walk on those inviting little paths and see what interested the bees so much.
I didn't, of course.
The Zimmermans were about my grandparent's age, or a little older, so they'd lived through the Great Depression, and I imagine at least one of them probably grew up on a farm. To them, a lawn must have seemed terribly wasteful, all that good land lying fallow when it could be providing a great deal of food. Waste not, want not. They must have enjoyed gardening, to have such a garden and take such good care of it. They used to share the fruits of their garden with the neighborhood - the traditional zucchini and squash that bear more than one person can possibly consume!
In my neighborhood, the children use backyards as shortcuts from one house to another, declaring their dominion over all grassy highways and byways. My home office window faces the backyard, so I often see them dashing through my yard, scaring the rabbits and racing to catch a friend.
The other day a 10-year-old boy was pelting through, as only 10-year-old boys can, when he drew up short to a complete halt. He stared. And stared. He was utterly fascinated by my vegetable garden. He stooped to read the plant markers, to find out what these mysterious plants were in their raised beds in neat rows, with chicken wire protecting some but not others. He inspected the plants closely, hands behind his back. He lifted one foot hesitantly, as if he wanted to walk into the vegetable garden and go examine the plants on the other side -- but he thought the better of it, and stayed on the path. He walked to the back gate slowly, looking back at my garden, before taking off at top-speed again once he had exited.
Has he never seen a garden before? I wondered, amused. What kind of child is so fascinated by vegetables? Has he truly never seen food being grown?
And then I remembered the Zimmermans, whom I hadn't thought of for years, and all at once I was six years old and could smell the fresh earth and sharp greenery of their vegetable garden, hear the buzzing of the bees in their orgy of pollinating ecstacy. I was back on the verge of that mysterious wonderland that called to me so invitingly.
Next time, I hope he steps inside the garden.