My mom’s house sits up on a hill, its sloping front lawn lined by orange trees on one side and birds of paradise on the other. During the six months she was fighting cancer in Los Angeles her brilliant garden dimmed a bit, she being the manager of details, clipping and trimming in short-shorts and halter top, her strong back tanned by the Northern California sun. The plants stayed basically healthy (unlike Gabriele) and needed only a green-thumb make-over.
I’m no gardener, but the magic of tending to something is clear to me, even if that something is not your own. Ethan and Griffin dug holes in the beds of bark-mulch that dot the lawn and Uncle Chris dragged pots of riotous succulents that had overgrown their pots. Into the ground, the thick, wet soil welcoming exposed roots.
The work felt good, young backs bending easily while old ones lifted and held strong. Griffins blue pants ripped across the knee, the dirt embedded too deeply to ever wash out, but after trimming back Ficus and stuffing a heap of dead branches into the bins, the finished result was worth a trip to Target to buy him new ones. From the second floor of the house, her hospital bed cranked as high as it could go, Gabriele watched this small but significant transformation.
“It’s such a beautiful world,” she whispered when I went in for a visit, my sweat streaked forehead meeting her clean one. And she is right.
The yard is groomed now, the abalone and conch shells my mom has collected over a lifetime dotting the dirt like treasure. Pomegranate, apple and persimmon trees are bursting into bloom. The koi in my mother’s fish pond, some over a foot long, are thriving and her chickens keep the eggs coming. But at night, the mountain lions and coyotes pad silently around their coop, hoping for a lucky break, and at dawn a great blue heron perches in my mother’s diadora tree, ready to swoop to the water to try to snag a life.