Beauty was one pillow away

Urban ugliness yields to hidden greenery as the writer lifts his view.

When I lie back on my bed and look out of our second-story windows, I see smudged walls that could come straight out of Bernstein’s “West Side Story.” TV and phone cables crisscross the weather-scratched glass. They are heavy, ugly, sagging cables humped with black transformers; though, let’s be fair, the squirrels love them, and never fail to amaze us with their acrobatic and aerobatic skills.

The walls along the alley are pure Jackson Pollock: peeling white walls rising out of a mound of red and yellow plastic crates vaguely covered by a royal blue tarpaulin. A rusting Chrysler, nose up, without front wheels, slopes toward an unused basement garage. Holding guard over the car is a huge black wooden cabinet with an 8-foot-high Coke ad along one side.

The skyline offers jagged rooftops, a sinkfull of satellite dishes, and a solitary chimney with a silver cowl.

This panorama shows few changes in sunlight, rain, or snow, winter or summer. It’s hard to get excited about waking up and looking out.

But one spring morning as I contemplated what I could see of a promising blue sky, I reached for an extra pillow and thrust it under my head.

Suddenly my world changed. I saw linden trees in a gap between those plastic crates and the “West Side Story” wall. Soft green shoots thrust out from the branches, and the heavy black cables dropped below the window ledge. With a tiny shift to my right, that chimney was replaced by a soaring church spire, gleaming in early sunlight. This was an exchange program I’d never tried before. And it was just one pillow away!

Every weekend from that morning on, I’ve delayed my rising time to luxuriate in the new view from my bed. As I looked toward those lindens, I discovered that they backed community gardens dropped among the row houses, and with one more pillow I could remain prone yet still enjoy every sign of spring growth and new life in that revitalizing oasis in a crowded city.

Since then I’ve delighted in calling these my “secret gardens,” remembering nostalgically a Broadway musical (“The Secret Garden”) I saw three times, with its tender call in Marsha Norman’s lyrics for us to rediscover the hidden gardens in our lives by clearing away the dead parts so that the tender buds can form. “Loosen up the earth and let the roots get warm,” goes one song.” For “all that garden needs is for us to come wake it up!”

Only in this case, it wasn’t the garden that needed prodding, it was me.

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