Dried teasels, green thoughts

THIS morning, on a whim, I decided to take Ruggles up to the park to look at our community garden. Had any one asked why I was going to look at half an acre of dried-up brown stalks and tattered leaves in the middle of February, I could not have explained, even to myself.

Fresh wet snow had fallen in the night. The air was damp and dripping, the sky a dull gray, but it felt warm, in the way that just about freezing always feels warm after temperatures in the teens and single numbers.

Ruggles loves snow. He rolls in it. He rubs his whole face in it. He sniffs and paws at it. He dashes around in circles shoveling it up on the end of his nose. He's a thoroughly winter dog. As the thermometer goes down, he perks up. I do not always share his irrepressible enthusiasm, but it is hard to totally resist such infectious exuberance.

Scrambling to the top of an incline, we reached the garden and started along the edge. Eyes on the ground, I began to recognize several plants in their winter habit. There was somehow no need to lament the passing of their former appearance. With the snow tucked around their delicate stems, they simply presented themselves in another light, as when a friend does something different with her hair. My attention was drawn by the exquisite traceries against the white-ness.

All at once I felt compelled to stop a moment, to raise my eyes and survey the whole garden. Surprisingly this was no forlorn or dismal scene at all. There was something cheerful, friendly, almost cozy about it. It had a familiar quality, like a handmade patchwork quilt. The blanket of snow had provided just the right unifying field for what might otherwise have been a rather untidy hodgepodge of dried-out vegetation, sticks, and stalks.

Each plot, 10 feet by 10 feet, had a different design, as different and individual, I supposed, as its owner. One or two plots, cleared of all debris, were smooth white squares.

Others had groups or rows of stakes still standing straight. Thick-stemmed brown tomato vines bent over with their tops buried in the snow.

There were evenly spaced stout bare stalks, once broccoli, or Brussels sprouts perhaps, pieces of pea fencing, large nodding brown sunflowers, thickets and tangles, mysterious mounds and clumps, the patterns rich and various.

That morning the garden seemed to me to be a charming study in sepia on white, etched and cross-stitched about lovingly by many hands and brought finally into a unified whole by the wintry elements. A sort of large-scale friendship quilt.

At length I moved on to catch up with the dog, and tramping down the other side of the garden, I stumbled on two teasels standing stiffly in a patch of weeds. Less than half the size of the florist's version, they seemed very special to me at that moment -- like an unexpected gift.

As dog and I left the garden and crossed the empty playing field, I realized that in just two months I will come back again to this corner of the park. We will be turning over the soil in our 10-by-10 plot, nodding to our neighbors, sharing seeds and growing tips, and wondering which crop will be tops this year.

We head home with my harvest: two dried teasels and a bundle of bright, green thoughts.

Gabrielle von Fremd

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