The contractions had been coming off and on for a few days now.
The excitement had worn off a little, in realizing the baby wouldn't be coming as swiftly as I'd initially thought. Pressure points weren't working to induce me into active labour, neither was spicy food; we were in for a long ride, it seemed. Tim had already taken the day off work in the false hopes of this is it, so we decided: Hey, why not? Maybe we'll try going for a walk to see if it progresses things along.
We crossed the street to the park that faced our home, following a foot path as it looped around the baseball diamond. I had to stop every few minutes to lean into Tim as another bolt of lightening pierced my sciatic nerve––it was worse than the contractions. When the path ended at the mouth of the baseball diamond, Tim stopped to take in our surroundings. I closed my eyes and breathed through the tightening. We could carry on to the road ahead of us, he said, or we could follow what appeared to be a dog path to our right. I said the choice was up to him, and held his hand as he led me down a winding trail toward a narrow opening in the hedges.
As we passed through the cedar archway, we came upon a large field enclosed by a forest. There were row upon row of garden bed plots, each with various fruit and vegetable vines tumbling wildly, yet purposefully: a community garden. Some plots were dried out with a few parched leaves, yellowing and curling, barely hanging on. Others were flourishing: big sunflowers grew tall, arching their necks to face the bright August sun behind us. Ripe tomatoes climbed stakes and ants scurried down the base of palm-sized zucchini flowers.
To our left, a group of women speaking Swahili bent over in the dirt, talking and laughing with one another as they collected their bounty. To our right, a sun-leathered woman in denim overalls and a straw hat emptied her watering can over some basil leaves, as she wiped the sweat from her forehead, replacing it with dirt. A man with a glistening bald head winked at us as he ripped up a fist of crunchy kale from the earth, then tiptoed artfully across the stone steps towards his basket.
How was it that Tim and I, in the four years we had lived in the house around the corner, never seen this magical place before? I felt electrified by it. All this life, all this beauty and community gathering, and we had no idea it even existed!
The few years that preceded that day were dark for us. We had gone through a failed adoption and a deep depression had ensued. Life had felt like one perpetual dark day, burdened with heavy, weighted clouds. Where there was once hope and excitement, there seemed only barrenness. We spent many months locked up in our home, and locked up in our minds. Eventually, after many months and nights in of binge-watching TV, the weight had lifted a little, even if only enough for some sun to pierce through the clouds and plant a seed of hope. We decided to take steps forward again. We got pregnant. Now, I was one week overdue, walking through my intermittent contractions, and discovering this secret garden for the first time.
I felt giddy, temporarily forgetting about my aching back and the pressure mounting within me. Tim and I chatted quickly about which plot would be our top pick to rent the following year, one that was close to the archway, obviously, but also close enough to the tap to fill our watering cans. I imagined what we would plant: sweet potatoes, carrots and sweet peas. I imagined a one year old crawling through the dirt and finding worms. I was making friends with the Swahili-speaking ladies. I imagined carrying a bountiful basket of vegetables past the baseball diamond, through the park, and onto our kitchen table. It didn't seem to matter that I had never gardened a day in my life, because next year––next year there would be plump tomatoes!
I didn’t know it then, but that garden gave me breath. It resonated with me. The sun-dappled light, the dewdrops on blackberry leaves, the smell of earth and compost and gardener's sweat. All that time, so close to our home, so close to a place we had writhed and curled in pain, there was also life. Even in the winter months, seeds were hidden beneath the soil. In the rainfall, they germinated. In the sun, they blossomed. Right around the corner! Right around the corner. All along.
In the early hours of dawn the next morning, as the sun streamed through our bedroom window, and with one final push, our son was born; pink, crying, and full of possibilities. That first discovery of the garden was almost six years ago. We never did rent one of those garden plots––a baby proved much more demanding of our time than in our naive and fanciful imaginations––but that garden gave me permission to dream again.
We have since moved from that house and yet, all these years later, even as cloudy days come and go, a detour in the car with my son takes me near that part of town again, and that feeling comes back to me––a reminder:
There’s a garden around the corner. Maybe try going for a walk.
(*the photo above was taken with my son in the garden, just a year or so after our first discovery).