The Borrowed Garden, on the berm across the street from our house, has been doing well this summer. The wood chips we spread over the past couple of years have suppressed most of the weeds. The volunteer palm is growing new fronds. The baby octopus agaves and transplanted aloes are beginning to make a statement on the upper slopes. And a good many acorns planted last year by squirrels or jays have sent up tiny oak seedlings, some of which seem to be surviving the dry summer.
Then, to our great surprise, a tree trimmer dumped a truckload of chips right on top of our most developed area. Why? It seemed obvious to us that the garden didn’t need more chips, and that this particular spot would even be damaged by them. But perhaps the driver of the dump truck was not thinking much at all beyond how to shorten a trip to the dump. In any case, there was now a mountain of wood chips to be dealt with and, somewhere under it, a small palm and an uncertain number of succulents.
The first necessity was to get the lower end of the pile off the narrow walkway used by people making their way to the BART station. Ah! There’s another question: why choose a 12-inch wide, broken asphalt path, beset with thistles and foxtails for much of its length, when there is a regular sidewalk on the other side of the street? But, in this case, I think I do understand. Most pedestrians prefer what looks like the most direct route—even if it entails a little overland pioneering—to the officially designated one that might be five or six steps longer. Law-abiding citizen though I aspire to be, I’ve done it myself.
Jon took care of clearing the track on Friday, the day the mountain landed. The next afternoon, the first order of business was to try to prevent any repetition of the incident, and Jon created three signs saying, in large letters “No more chips” and set them up along the central segment of the Borrowed Garden. Then he attacked the mountain and made major headway before I got free from whatever work was occupying me and joined him. The two of us worked together for several hours, but we had to quit early because of a dinner engagement. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, we finished the task of distributing the chips, some of it by raking or pitching them onto nearby open spots, but mostly by filling the wheelbarrow and ferrying them to other parts of the garden.
Not till late on Sunday did we get down to the buried plants. I wasn’t surprised that the tough little aloes had come through more or less unscathed. But young octopus agave leaves can be rather fragile and tend to snap if mishandled. Happily they had mostly come through, though I injured one or two myself in the process of excavating them.
It was interesting to observe the passing traffic while all this was going on. Our street has residences on one side, but only the BART station and a stretch of poorly maintained highway department property—and the Borrowed Garden—on the other. Drivers take that as license to exceed the posted speed limit, sometimes more than doubling it. Indeed, many of them get quite irate at those who obey the speed limit. The whole thing is a constant source of irritation for residents on the street.
That Sunday, we had our share of cars speeding past, some with glaring drivers—just as expected. What surprised me was how little provision most drivers seemed to make for their own safety and well-being. I think that, had I been driving up the street that afternoon, I would have exercised some caution at the sight of an old guy on a fairly steep incline turning an old, rusty wheelbarrow around on a twelve-inch wide path—the path itself being right at the curb. He could slip! He could lose his grip! He could have a heart attack from over-exertion! He could have a stroke and then the wheelbarrow—obviously one of those old, heavy metal ones—will be in the street right in my path!
Now, the street is one-way and wide enough for two lanes of traffic, but it allots only one lane, the left lane, to cars, the right-hand lane being dedicated to bicycles. You may think that the drivers were merely being law-abiding by staying in the left lane. No, they could have moved over a couple of feet without infringing on the bike lane at all. Much of the week, in fact, impatient drivers use the bike lane as if it were a passing lane, to the significant endangerment of just about everybody. But most of these folk didn’t so much as swerve a few feet away from us or slow down to, say, the speed limit. They just glared. Even the desire to keep the front of one’s BMW or Mercedes or (worst offenders of the lot) Prius safe from that nasty rusted wheelbarrow couldn’t temper their determination to own that lane.
There is a lesson here. But I suppose there is little point in making it explicit, since we humans aren’t typically very interested in it when we’re in the grip of our unreason.