hydrangea, by Muffet on Flickr, Creative Commons.

I left work briefly today and took a walk through a neighborhood adjoining my office, something that I have never done during the three years that I have worked here. When I was pregnant, I would occasionally head outside and tramp up and down the sidewalk in front of my office in an effort to churn up some energy, but I have never headed beyond the sidewalk outside of my urban office, in most part due to the fact that the area has its fair share of crime. However, for late June, the weather is fairly nice, and I was in need of a little inspiration, which I always find outside.

Once outside of my office and across the busy street to the South of it, I discovered a community garden, which despite driving past it several times a day, I have never noticed the sweet, little triangular patch of green nestled in-between two highly- traveled streets. As I continued down the sidewalk, on one side I passed a neighborhood school with uniformed children playing basketball outside and on the other, a row of poorly-kept houses. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that outside of one, three cats on leashes were chained to the front porch. They stared back at me with wild eyes, and two of them had hopelessly wrapped their tethers around a tree. Aside from their constraints, which were obviously not well-suited for their cat natures, they seemed well-cared for.

The row of houses led to several recently-constructed condo buildings, which had sprung up a few years ago before the bottom fell out of real estate market. Outside, two young women lounged by a very blue pool reading. I found my real discovery beyond the condos, however, where the neighborhood suddenly morphed into a line of very well-maintained older homes built into a steep hillside. Instead of grassy lawns, most had trails of English ivy bordering the steep driveways that wound up one side of each home and behind either into garages or down into basements. Several homes had terraced gardens full of brightly-colored flowers and plants. I took in the blues and purples of hydrangeas and the bright oranges of tiger lilies with the green of the ivy and the pastels of each home. Large oaks lined the street, which had no sidewalk, and helped drown out the buzz of traffic only a block or two away. I could hear the sweet songs of birds! Along with the sunshine and light exercise, their songs eased my busy mind.

On the way back to the office, I thought about my grandmother. My dear, sweet grandma has been slowly losing herself to Alzheimer’s, and despite the fact that both she and my grandfather are still living, we sold off most of their belongings this past weekend. Following the sale, I spent some time reading through a journal that my grandmother had kept when I was a young child. She wrote of tending her garden, which took up most of her backyard and consisted of winding trails, benches, fountains, statues, and most of all, tall plants that obscured the view of the house. She described how this garden and the nature she observed in it eased some of the pain and tension she felt as a result of a loveless marriage.

Her rough relationship with my grandfather has never been a secret in my family, and the marriage still exists, although now she sees my grandfather as the grumpy, old man who is her roommate, or sometimes, as the grumpy, old man who happens to be in the room with her as her perception does not always go beyond the present moment. However, her description of the solace she found outside, reminds me of myself. I always believed that the peace I found in nature came from my upbringing on a Midwestern farm and the hours I spent playing alone outside because I had no playmates nearby, aside from the cat and dog and horses and cattle. However, I found some of her words in my own mind and her truth in my own heart. As I returned to my office and passed back by the beautiful homes on the hillside, the modern condos with their blue pool, and the funny, little houses and chained cats, I felt better equipped to deal with the requirements of my day, just as my grandmother must have felt somewhat refueled to return to the battle that was her marriage.