People who read this blog regularly will know I’ve recently moved homes. I’ve moved out of my family’s old neighbourhood, affectionately referred to as “The Minnow,” and moved into what is still called “The Hospital Area” (even though the hospital is currently being demolished and turned into condos next to Lake Ramsey!). That huge move, physically and emotionally, happened in early July. Then I jetted off to Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand for a good chunk of August. Now, I think I’m doing something called ‘nesting,’ which involves frequent, unnecessary (and often expensive) trips to places like Bouclair, Homesense and Pier 1 Imports, assessing potential curtains or choosing artwork for the basement flat I inherited when I moved in here.
Both neighbourhoods have their own unique fingerprints. I miss the man on Weller Street who used to ask me how my day was when I l walked the dogs in The Minnow. I miss my old neighbourhood store and my friend, Nancy, who works there. (I randomly drop in there still, at least once a week, because it’s almost a part of who I am.) For me, the whole essence of The Minnow is resilience, tenacity and spirit. It also embodies my childhood, youth, and reminds me of my family. Some of the lovelier things that happen here, though, are that my new neighbours welcomed me with open arms and great kindness. One woman across the street welcomed me with a card and a plate of home-made cookies. Another one stops me when I walk the dogs and offers me random strawberries. (It was in July, I should say, so the strawberries are long gone now, sadly.) The man next door warned me about potential racoons in the rafters of the garage. He also told me that, regardless of how pretty the green ivy looked against the red brick, I should pull it down to prevent it from invading the attic and ruining the roof. He has a beautiful rock garden at the back of his property, just beyond his fence. I admire it at least three times a day and covet his hardy plants.
In late July, I heard tell, from another person across the street, that there was a guerilla gardener in the neighbourhood. “What?” I thought, “Doesn’t this kind of thing only happen in places like Toronto or Vancouver”? I have seen people raid gardens, sadly, but never to plant new things. This was all new to me.
Every time I walked through the area, I looked for signs of random gardening. For a long time, nothing. Then, this week, with me back to school and teaching full-time, I noticed that the guerilla gardener had struck behind my fence! There, with little piles of rich soil around their roots, were two bunches of hollyhocks—one burgundy and one white. I cannot tell you how excited I was to see that she had graced me with her creativity and spirit! Speaking to my neighbour yesterday morning before work, just after the morning dog walk, he told me that his entire rock garden was the result of this one woman’s work. How amazing!
I’ve been reading about guerilla gardening for the past week or so, trying to figure it all out. In the process, I found a great 2010 article by Leah McLaren in The Globe and Mail. In that piece, McLaren writes about the origins of guerilla gardening, which ‘sprouted’ (yes, the pun is intentional!) in New York City in the 1970s. Who would’ve thunk it? Initially, the whole practice might have been more about beautifying an area, but now it’s more about urban ecology and environmentalism. Either way, in my mind, it’s a gift. The spirit of the whole movement seems, to me, to speak about compassion, kindness, and connectivity. We live in such a disconnected world, tied to our cell phones, laptops and iPads, that I find great joy in the planting of a solitary hollyhock stem in a sort of ‘secret’ way.
I like the mystery of it all, actually. I keep peering out my back patio window, trying to catch this gifted gardener in the act, but I never do. The fact that she chose the back of my wobbly fence as the most recent place to plant things is a bit thrilling. (I don’t know if this speaks to the more meditative speed of my life during these September days, or if I’ve begun to really be more mindful of the beauty of the world around me, in all of its little ripples and oddities. Either way, I feel much more aware of what is going on around me and not happening to me. I think, as a poet, I’m looking outwardly, observing, all with a hope of better understanding the world within and beyond me. It’s all compost for creativity, I think.
Beyond all this, though, the whole guerilla gardening thing makes my heart fill up with joy. Some might be offended by a hollyhock planted without approval, but I’m not. It’s like a “welcome to the neighbourhood” greeting and it makes me feel as if I’ve finally come home….after a long time of worrying and wandering. I’m part of a greater whole. Less separate. More connected. Those hollyhocks have power….they build bridges and link us, one to another, so that we remember what it means to chat with neighbours, to hear laughter in our streets, and to value our human experience on a very basic, but very genuine, level.
Tonight, I’m grateful…for hollyhocks, for new neighbourhoods and neighbours, for shih tzus who sleep curled into feathery piles, for Glen Hansard playing on the stereo while I write at night, and for the life I’m leading.