Surprises bloom in the bleakness

I wasn't a happy camper, and that was an understatement. Here we were in the big city for our much-anticipated shopping weekend. We had just parked near the auto-parts store, so I automatically groped for my magazine. My low tolerance for boredom (I frequently heard "Your middle name is not 'Patience,' " during my childhood) leads me to stash reading material in the car. Always. Except this time, of course. My fingers, fumbling for my Organic Gardening or Redbook closed on nothing. There wasn't one. I'd forgotten it.

"You could always come in," my husband suggested.

I envisioned aisle after aisle of windshield wipers and bottles of power-steering fluid, piles of wrenches, jars of grease, and heaps of jumper cables stretching to mind-numbing eternity.

"No," I said. I managed, heroically, not to sigh. "I'll just listen to the radio. That's probably the lesser of two boredoms."

So, in he went while I fiddled with the radio buttons. But for some reason I could only get staticky fade-in and fade-out talk shows. I finally clicked it off and stared glumly out the window. What I saw made me even more itchily dull and gloomy: a neighborhood of shabby shops and car garages. The empty lot next to the car was the worst. Weeds scraggled high over hard, cracked earth. A few scraps of trash blew here and there. Leaden clouds scudded low over the dreary scene.

I glared at my watch, which seemed to be running mysteriously much more slowly than usual, shifted around in my seat, and sighed a lot.

When I looked again at the desolate land in front of me, the clouds shifted. The sky lightened. Something caught my eye: a rust-breasted gray robin swooping down to the ground, looking for all the world like a big windup toy.

As I watched, I noticed that the clump of weeds next to him was actually some kind of daisy, a lanky shrub loaded with lavender-blue blooms as pretty as anything planted and pampered in my flower garden. My first glance had scanned the abandoned lot in a general fashion, but now I was focusing on seeing deeply.

A scarlet dragonfly hovered like a miniature Day-Glo helicopter and landed near a scrambly bramble bush I recognized as a stalwart wild rose. Two cream- and-black swallowtail butterflies fluttered off. Above a plant fuzzed with tiny pompoms of yellow flowers, a bee cloud danced the jitterbug. Some of the swarm buzzed low, into a patch of clover sporting balls of palest pink posies. Around the clover, ants streamed in two steady threads, back and forth.

The door creaked open, and Craig tossed bags into the back seat. He slid behind the wheel. "Your waiting's over, at long last." His eyes followed mine; he waved his hand at the abandoned property. "What a mess." The key turned in the ignition.

I gazed at my discovery in the heart of the dreary industrial part of the city, within a neglected empty lot, in the midst of my bored waiting. My own secret garden, vibrant with life.

"You know," I said, "I'm going to miss this place."

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