Thursday in the Garden

The east side of our apartment building sits most of its day firmly in the shade of three evergreen trees. A fourth tree had once stood in the row, but one year it had gotten so sick and so tall that our landlords had it chopped down. Part of the trunk is still in its initial spot but now serves as a sturdy leg for a table in the garden surrounding it.

My daughter and I haven’t been going to any parks in the afternoon, like we do most of the year when the weather isn’t so blistering. Temperatures the last couple of weeks have been nearing triple digits, the weather app showing a map engulfing the entire country in blazing reds. I wince every time I check the forecast showing unending hot temperatures ten days out, and I vow to stop opening the app.

In place of the park, we adventure around our apartment building in the afternoons while we wait for my husband to get home from work. The temperatures seem to be at least ten degrees cooler in the shade. And in the late afternoon in late August, a welcomed breeze reminds us that this season will soon end.

Enjoying a little break from the heat, we bring toys and scoops and buckets to this side of the yard. Each day, my daughter looks for a thick stick and starts digging into the bed of pine needles to see what treasures lay below. Lately, it’s been empty snail shells, tiny dry pine cones (which she refers to as porcupines—something I never want her to stop saying), fat beetles scurrying just out of her reach, and busy anthills.

Sometimes I sit in silence and watch her, feeling the late summer breeze play on my arms, watching the dappled light dance on the concrete where I sit, and listening to the magpie warble in the evergreen above us. Other times I bring bubbles and blow them into the air as she works. Today, though, she asks me to “talk-you-mom,” which means she wants me to talk to her while she plays. My mind draws a blank, having been put on the spot, so I decide to narrate what she’s doing, giving words to how she works, how she digs into the dirt, chases an ant, and examines a singular pine needle. This seems to satisfy her.

However, she quickly loses interest in digging, having grown bored playing in the same place in the yard each day. Tossing aside her scoop and bucket, she runs to the front of the building, calling after me. It’s still so hot, and I can only move so fast, but I meet up with her on the other side of the building, where it’s bathed in sunshine.

She stands at the closed gate guarding our landlord’s garden. “Open-open-open,” she demands, rattling the little wooden door. I unlatch it and we walk through. The large trellises lush with winding grape vines act as a screen, but the blinding sun still pushes its rays through the leaves. While there is an abundance of green everywhere, bits of yellow start to peek through—an indication that we are standing on the threshold of fall.

The bunches of grapes hanging on the vine are not quite ready for picking, but their presence heralds the coming of autumn. Next month, they will be ripe and full. Local women will harvest their garden grapes, gathering together in groups to boil them down into syrup once the outside temps cool.  

We walk past several rose bushes and sit down in two lawn chairs. Esther swings her legs back and forth and asks me to do the same. I look over the rest of the garden while swinging my legs. Purple eggplants hang heavy on their stalks. The green heirloom tomatoes are not quite ready for harvest, along with many zucchinis that didn’t exist a week ago. And beds burst with petunias and asters.

The landlords have built a makeshift greenhouse made out of plywood and tarp. It doesn’t look pretty, but at the beginning of spring, the inside of it bursts with parsley and arugula, sending an herby fragrance so strong I can smell it when I hang laundry off our balcony. 

The tarp snaps in the comfortable breeze, and Esther and I sit, pointing out flocks of birds flying south overhead and little ants circling our feet.

“Talk-you-mom?” she asks again, and this time I tell her about all we have done this summer, the new places we traveled, the new recipes we cooked, the new friends we met. I tell her about the plans we have for the fall right around the corner. We dream of all the things to come.

Summer will soon end. The trumpet vines will slowly die, and the rose bushes will dry up. The eggplants will be harvested, and the tomatoes turned red will be set out to dry and then cooked to make a paste for the winter months. The grass will turn a dusty and fragile brown.

But then a new season will come, to heal and renew. With fall, I tell her, there will be grapes bursting on the vines again.

Photo by Malaya Sadler on Unsplash