Walking yesterday morning was a bit of a strain as I had much garbage to pick up on the street and few sights in between to direct my eyes and my spirit away from the crushed cigarette cartons or the sodden bits of napkin left from a discarded lunch. As I picked up trash, I had to watch little Earnest to make sure he didn’t pick up any of the chicken bones that invariably get tossed on the sidewalk during the night; so, I was rather preoccupied. Yellow grey skies hung so low and acted both as mufflers, damping down any sounds of planes, and as amplifiers. When the fog hangs low, the BART trains that run across the southern end of my street sound louder and scratchier than usual. On clear days they pass like silken bee hum; on days like today, heavy with clouds, their passing is more like disgruntled long-toothed beasts clawing the edges of their cages, trying desperately to escape.
As I walked, dropping down every third step to pick up paper scraps, I longed to walk instead under canopies of trees near crystal streams wide enough to catch the sparks of sun that spiked their way through the empty corridors above where treetops pulled aside. Ha ha ha. Now that would be a trick. All joking aside, I do love walking next to water, and I’m equally happy on mountaintops, gazing over meadows wide enough to be oceans. I may be less comfortable in city decay, but I find beauty there as well. I have lived most of my adult life deep inside cities, usually in neighborhoods overwhelmed by decay and layers of trash (these are the places I can afford), and so I have made it my practice to look and discover, to inhabit beauty instead of despair. Although I might like to live in quiet isolation deep in the country, I don’t. Nonetheless, daily I seek nature because the natural world sustains me. I walk, picking up trash, looking for the odd flower, the unexpected butterfly or bee, and stop when I see the shadow of a tree, dancing on the sidewalk. Even after all these years, I am moved by the delicacy of that.
After stuffing two largish plastic bags of trash into the one city garbage can near the bus-stop, I walked slowly home. I wondered briefly if the lack of public trashcans contributed to amount of public trash; I didn’t think so. I did not feel ecstatic walking over the cleaned sidewalk; I knew there would be more trash tomorrow, and that thought left me feeling a bit disgruntled. Later, when the sun came out, I set out to do some errands and decided to park my car and walk with Earnest through Oakland’s rose garden, nestled in a natural hollow, almost an amphitheater, that has settled atop the Hayward fault. I had awakened thinking of my father and his rose tattoo, of my mother and her love of roses. Roses were on my mind and seeping beneath my skin when I set out in the morning to pick up trash, which may have contributed to my grumpiness. Crushed cigarette cartons are a poor substitute for roses.
Spending small time in the expanse of the Oakland rose garden seemed like a good idea. It is an old garden, quite beautiful, with many fragrant roses planted on terraces on the hillsides and below on either side of a long reflecting pool fed by a waterfall tumbling from a man-made spring above. Ordinarily, it is a peaceful place with only a few people wandering about while others quietly read on park benches, but yesterday it was bustling with trucks, wheelbarrows, and construction workers armed with power tools. All the paths above had been torn up as had several down below, scraped to bare earth, ready for reconstruction. The pool had been emptied of water, the waterfall was nonexistent, and 8’ tall yellow mesh barriers locked together to form a formidable fence that limited access to all but the main garden. Even there the roses seemed a bit frightened by all the clamor.
We didn’t stay long, but I was glad to have been there. We walked instead through the neighborhood, past rainbows painted on trucks parked on a street named after butterflies, always stopping now and again to smell the roses pushing through fences.
There was no trash to pick up; neither were there any city trashcans.
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