A summer memory: The question my dad asked me when he got home from work, if it had rained earlier in the day. “Did it rain hard enough to get wet under the trees?”
Always, the answer was a shrug. I didn’t have much patience for Dad’s concerns. Watering wilty plants, pulling weeds, noticing—those were his purview, not mine.
Now I find myself checking, whenever it rains, whether the earth is wet under the trees.
And when I come home from a week away, my eye is immediately drawn to what’s changed in the landscape. “Oh, the daylilies are blooming,” I might be heard to say, slowing to see orange blossoms in a neighbor’s flower bed. It’s the kind of comment that would have made roll my eyes in my youth.
It is different as an adult, living in one place for a long time. You come to feel an ownership not just of your yard but your entire street, the tree canopy above the neighborhood, the pavement, the dirt itself. Even if you don’t know all your neighbors, you smile at the faces you know, and regard warily those you don’t. You want the best for your little corner, so you pick up litter and throw it in the nearest receptacle, you pick up after your dog, you try to keep the storm drains free of debris.
At least that’s how it is with me and my neighborhood.
And my partner and I love where we live. We don’t plan to leave; we’ve settled in more and more each year. It’s true our yard has its limitations: We can’t keep ducks. We have only so much sunlight for our garden beds. We have no room to try hugelkultur.
But over the years, the source of our sustenance has expanded to include the broader community.
I buy eggs each week from a chicken-keeping neighbor, who also shares fruit from her orchard. Last year we tended a community garden, and this year we’re experimenting with straw bale gardening on a friend’s property. And one of my favorite activities is to forage for food along my street. I bring home salad greens and berries by the bucketful. (“Nature’s candy,” I hear my Dad’s voice saying, and sometimes say myself, gobbling mulberries.)
There’s a lovely rootedness to this life. I guess it’s possible to live for years in one place and never meet the neighbors, never put a hand into the soil, never sit outside. People drive into an attached garage and disappear into a house that serves as…what? a haven for the inner circle? a locus of entertainment? a fortress against the world?
That seems so sad to me, a kind of disembodiment—though I too appreciate a haven, crave entertainment, and need security. But to live only inside the house sounds like a terribly constrained existence, no matter what kind of diverting electronics are humming within its walls.
Dad used to spend every long summer evening outdoors puttering. It was a mystery what he did out there. As an adult I understand. He was tending, noticing, relating. Getting rooted.