by Mary E. Lowd
A Deep Sky Anchor Original, January 2023
The city stretches as far as I know in every direction. Some kids at school say it covers the entire world, wrapping the globe of our planet in concrete snakes and strangling tentacles, dimpling its surface with metal and glass towers. I don’t know if they’re right. The websites that would tell me for sure — the good, scientific, trustworthy ones — are behind paywalls, and my parents say we can’t trust what we read on the free sites.
I know we can’t trust what we’re taught in school.
Jessica says there are still continents covered in trees and grass and flowers. Whole stretches of wilderness where you can lie down and stare at the sky without paying for the space you’re taking up, measuring your life out in dollars per minute. I’m not sure I believe her, but her vision is beautiful. It’s part of why I love her so much. She’s an idealist. We’ve been best friends since kindergarten, and while a lot of kids break up with their best friends from elementary school somewhere along the way to high school, Jessica and I have stuck together.
Yesterday, Jessica found a place where the fence around The Preservationist Garden had cracked and been patched poorly, leaving a square foot of wildflowers and weeds growing haphazardly in the bare dirt.
Can you imagine it? Bare dirt. No concrete covering it.
It feels almost indecent, like someone coming to school with no clothes on.
The patch is in an alley that runs along the side of The Preservationist Garden with the backs of restaurants at the bottom of high rises filled with apartments and offices on the other side. The offices and apartments in those buildings are extra expensive, because they’re paying for a view of the garden.
Most of us only ever get to see the daily pictures released by the Preservationist Garden social media accounts. But people who can afford to live in those apartments and work in those offices get to see the garden — looking down on it from above through panes of glass — with their bare eyes. I’ve always wanted to live there. My parents say not to get my hopes up. I’m unlikely to ever be that rich. Then I tell them, if I can’t live in those apartments, maybe I could work for the Preservationist Society itself… become a gardener! And then they just laugh like I’m so cute and young.
Anyway, the restaurants at the bottom of those buildings serve the buildings’ patrons from the higher floors, mostly. And their shared back alley is mostly abandoned except for restaurant workers coming out for five-minute breaks or throwing stuff away. So, I guess, no one else has noticed Jessica’s square foot of wilderness.
Sometimes, you hear about a dandelion managing to grow up from a crack in the concrete somewhere in the city. People who are lucky enough to find it go viral instantly with their pictures. It’s a sign of hope — dandelions still exist, and sometimes, they can take root, even in this world.
The rich people post comments complaining about how pedestrian and invasive dandelions are. Apparently they’re, like, the worst of all flowers. But damn, I wanted to see one with my own eyes so badly.
And then Jessica found her patch of wilderness and brought me there and… Those tiny, soft, bright gold petals, overlapping in their complicated patterns? If that’s a bad flower, I can’t even imagine what a good one looks like.
I mean, obviously, yes, I’ve seen the photographs from the inside of The Preservationist Garden. I know what roses, camelias, rhododendrons, lilies, and whatnot all look like. I’ve sifted through the pages of The Preservation Society’s website, obsessing over flower varieties and species of the bugs who live among them just like any kid who lives in the city. Arguably, it was even my first special interest, before anyone know I was autistic. So, yeah, I’ve seen pictures of flowers. Believe me, I’ve seen pictures of flowers. The exact minute that The Preservationist Society released their new “Picture of the Day” used to be my favorite minute of every day, and then I’d spend the rest of that day totally obsessed with whatever kind of flower the picture had been of.
But… seeing it in person? It’s different.
The wind whistles past the little gold flower. It bobs and moves. I can breathe on it. I can smell it, and it smells bright and sour and pungent and alive.
I could pick it if I wanted to. There are four of them fully bloomed in Jessica’s patch. But what an awful thing to do…
Then it would die. It would be gone, and I couldn’t look at it anymore.
Jessica and I have spent hours with our backs leaned against the wall of The Preservationist Garden, one of us on either side of her little patch of wilderness, just watching the blades of grass, letting our eyes linger on their straight, spiky greenness. Letting our gaze wander between the blades as slowly as if we were tiny creatures living there, like the gem-like ladybug who sometimes lands on the dandelions’ petals. She’s like a little living ruby, and so we’ve named her that.
Jessica and I sit together, staring at a simple patch of grass and weeds with four bright yellow flowers, and occasionally we look up, catch each others’ eyes, smile, maybe laugh, and can’t believe our good fortune.
I don’t know if the weeds in our wild patch will die away without the gardeners of the Preservationist Society tending them. I worry that they will. There’s a reason no one grows balcony gardens or keeps potted plants any more. Though, I’ve heard they were popular as little as a generation ago.
Jessica says it’s because all the seeds are genetically programmed these days to die away without patented supplements. I don’t know if she’s right. Maybe it’s just that those of us who can’t afford to join the Preservationist Society have been so far away from plants, kept away from them for so long, that we’ve forgotten what they need.
But Jessica says the plants would grow and flourish without our help if it weren’t for the corporations weaving time bombs into their genes that kill them after a single generation. Before that, plants grew wild without humanity’s help.
Even so, even if Jessica’s right, I want to do something active to take care of our patch. I want to bring it water or minerals… I want to do something for it. I want to tend it, and keep it safe. But if I watered it, would that be too much? Would the poor flowers drown? What kind of minerals would help and which would hurt? I just don’t know, and there’s no one I can ask without revealing our secret. And if anyone else knew about this small patch where the garden has escaped it’s borders, I’m sure they’d come and pave it away.
The secret knowledge of gardening is locked away on the paid portions of the Preservationist Society website, which my family can’t afford, and these flowers are too precious to risk hurting them with my ignorance. So I don’t know what to do…
Other than to watch the flowers, look at them with my greedy eyes, starved for green and natural beauty. Look at them and love them.
And wish the world were different and more free.