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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Under-appreciating over-growth: Gardening at night

There's been a lot of talk about gardening in my neighborhood, a place that's struggling between what it is and what some would have it become. Usually the proponents of flowered plots are those with property who harbor hopes of transforming our urban environs into a more suburban clime, amenable to backyard barbecues and front porch swings. They want to white wash away the city grit that's attracted my lot, a mixed bag of strivers seeking things immaterial. We're drawn to the inky night that hides treasured secrets, not the sunny light that bathes the mundane in a favorable shine.

Gardening is a topic with which I've always found it difficult to make common cause. I'm part of a generation that was long ago alienated from Nature, and a many-year resident of the concrete jungle where space is precious and usually occupied by brick and mortar. My friends who grow things usually do so out of sight, in the privacy of their inside spaces, unable to afford more than a few rooms to hang their things.

Don't get me wrong, I understand and appreciate the desire and need to nurture. I admire greatly those who have the ability to coax things to grow, in the hopes of beautifying the lives of others. The objectives of gardeners can vary, however. Some choose to plant thorny bushes and forbidding hedges meant to exclude others, and seclude themselves. Others opt for communal gardens, with welcoming flowers meant to be enjoyed by whoever happens by.

There are also the metaphorically green thumbed, who transform cold concrete walls into many-colored splendors, planting artistic seeds that embed themselves in viewers' hearts until true community blossoms. Flowers can come in the form of portraits, poems and songs as well as daffodils. There is a creative chaos that defines the city, and it's a characteristic that some don't value and ever clamber to change into an ordered conformity, subdividing the structural diversity into neatly uniform plots.

I was lucky enough to have grown up in a wooded, undeveloped portion of southern Maryland where I could take frequent excursions with my brothers over the magically untamed streambed running through our backyard. That may seem far removed from my current urban home, but its wild honesty has much more in common with where I live than the superficial sameness of cookie-cutter single family homes.

Those Maryland woods have since been replaced by the manicured green lawns of suburban sprawl. I'll do my damnedest to ensure that Rogers Park on the far north side of Chicago doesn't meet a similar fate. My attempts to preserve and persevere against the gathering storm of gentrification may seem as vain an endeavor as gardening at night, but I know there are others here ready to dig in their heels. It's honest work in the shadows, and sometimes the dangers that hide in plain sight pose the greatest threat.

Gardening at Night
by R.E.M.

I see your money on the floor, I felt the pocket change
Though all the feelings that broke through that door
Just didn't seem to be too real.
The yard is nothing but a fence, the sun just hurts my eyes.
Somewhere it must be time for penitence. Gardening at night is never where.
Gardening at night. Gardening at night. Gardening at night.

The neighbors go to bed at ten.
Call the prayer line for a change.
The charge is changing every month.
They said it couldn't be arranged.

We ankled up the garbage sound, but they were busy in the rows.
We fell up, not to see the sun, gardening at night just didnt grow.
I see your money on the floor, I felt the pocket change
Though all the feelings that broke through that door
Just didn't seem to be too real.
Gardening at night. Gardening at night. Gardening at night

Your sister said that you're too young.
They should know they've been there twice.
The call was 2 and 51.
They said it couldn't be arranged.

I see your money on the floor, I felt the pocket change
Though all the feelings that broke through that door
Just didn't seem to be too real.
We ankled up the garbage sound, but they were busy in the rows.
We fell up not to see the sun, gardening at night just didnt grow.
Gardening at night. Gardening at night. Gardening at night.
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