One bright, sunny day in early summer, I was out in my front garden attempting to prune a wildly overgrown forsythia into submission. The afternoon was hot with the first flush of summer humidity. Without much thought beyond comfort, I had dressed in navy shorts and an old worn tank top.
As the story unfolds you will see, that this was perhaps shortsighted for a number of reasons. First among them: the branches of the uncooperative bush was fighting back by poking and scratching my bare arms and legs.
When I paused for a breather, I looked over to see a compact car packed with teenage boys had come to stop at the red light at the corner. Through the car's open window I could hear their boisterous laughter and fragments of conversation overtop of some rather loud music. While stopped for the light, there was little to occupy their attention, so their gaze turned in my direction. Then one of them, no doubt egged on by the society of his peers, yelled out a very rude comment, the kind of demeaning observation that only a cocky teenage boy would dare say in public.
How does one respond to such a brazen remark without endangering one's dignity even further? Even if you are quick enough to fire-off a sharp tongued zinger, it would probably only up the anti and escalate an already unpleasant situation. After all it doesn't take much mental agility to be cruel.
Mid-summer Tiger lily
Let's face it, as a society we take particular interest in not only making judgements, but sharing our observations, however impolite. Wether its tuning in to see who will be voted off the island this week or calling in to vote for your favorite singer or dancer on this season's latest slate of reality TV, we love to participate in passing judgement.
You would think that one's home and garden would be an oasis from the mad world of snap judgements. Certainly this may be true for a secluded back garden, but take it out front on to a very busy street corner like mine and you quickly discover that you are the unwilling center of attention for every bored motorist passing by.
Gardening is my escape from day to day concerns. Though I regard it as my own personal oasis, when walking into my garden on our busy corner, I sometimes feel as if I have just stepped on to a theatrical stage.
I don't want to worry about clothes, hair and makeup when I garden, but it is hard not to be self-conscious when people gawk and stare as if the simple act of deadheading a rose bush was the most fascinating thing they ever saw.
God forbid you forget yourself for a moment and bend over to pull out a weed without having carefully considered the view you might be presenting to the world!
Now you may respond that I should be flattered by all this attention. No, not really! Just imagine if you could ask an animal at the zoo if he is flattered by all the gawkers. If he doesn't eat you for the sheer audacity of your question, he would tell you that there is nothing flattering about being watched.
Sometimes as the only sentinel at a busy intersection, I also find that motorists expect you to be freely willing to dispense driving directions. When I car slows, I now find myself preparing a mental map of local roads and calling up the addresses of popular destinations like the discount chicken outlet several streets over.
Seriously, it is beyond me how someone can leave the house with no idea whatsoever of how to get to their destination. How many times have I had to deal with a motorist on Venus who wants to get to Pluto. So often, I have been tempted to say impatiently to the lost motorist, "It's hopeless! Retrace your steps and go home. Then start over, this time with a map!" It has gotten to the point that, in order to deal with the litany of lost souls, we have begun to store local street maps in a wicker basket on the front porch. Believe you me, I have considered sending an invoice the local tourist authority for services rendered!
Late summer bloomer.
There are also garden questions from passing motorists. One woman, a local school bus driver who had stopped for the red light called out to ask the name of one of my roses. With the seconds clicking rapidly by before the light went green, I felt like I was on a game show: Name that Rose! With the panic of the contestant knowing the buzzer was about to ring, I quickly replied that I had forgotten the name and would have to dig out my plant list and look it up. In the seconds before the light turned green, I did manage to give her the name of the nursery, hoping that she might look up the rose herself. Well the very next day, didn't she roll down her window again and ask to know if I had looked up the rose's name. Of course I was polite, but I felt like replying that I had no idea I was working to a deadline.
Fall mums in the front garden.
Not only am I expected to dispense free gardening advice, I am also expected to be willing to hand out free stuff. By way of example, one woman after a few brief pleasantries, practically demanded to know if I had any "suckers". Another woman, who saw me moving a large perennial clump, stopped her car to ask me if I was throwing the plant out and could she have it?
For me, generosity is not something you ask for or expect, it is something you receive.
Frost crystals on one of the roses.
Now, I have to balance this long rant to say, that I have also had wonderful feedback on my garden. There has been so many times when I have been favored with the ultimate comment. Motorists have taken the time to pull their car to the side of the road and have crossed the busy street just to tell me how much they enjoyed seeing the garden's parade of summer flowers. In particular, I remember one older gentleman who wanted to shake my hand and tell me that my garden brought him "great joy" every time he passed by. I was very touched and flattered.