She was the last person I expected. Someone was damaging our garden. Breaking off branches. Lopping off flower heads. Pulling plants out of the ground. And then leaving them on the sidewalk or on the ground to whither and die. I imagined it being done facetiously by kids passing by. Maybe showing off to their friends, or just being inconsiderate and always needing to touch things.
But I learned it wasn't kids. And it was being done with anger and maliciousness.
I'd been working in the garden on a hot summer morning when she walked by with her dog. A neighbor woman I didn't know by name, but I knew her dogs name and recognized her from her daily walks. Never friendly, I always take these ones as a good challenge. To engage, open up, and find a little common ground and break through a gruff exterior to the sweetness underneath. I waved and said good morning, pausing in the waist high flower bed I was in, weeding, welcoming the opportunity to stand up straight for a moment, stretch my back and squint into the sun towards her. "It's a jungle in there" she said. I didn't note any humor in her voice, but instead, disdain. I laughed and agreed, because I really love jungles, and living in one would be a dream. I offered that in the hot weather we were having (weather is always a good safe topic) it keeps our house nice and cool. She scoffed a bit, and complained how hot her house is. I silently reminded myself her house is bare of trees and shrubs, but lots of asphalt parking and creosote timbers forming beds for strongly pruned hybrid tea roses. She continued on her walk and I returned to my work, bent over deep in my jungle, attempting to rid the flower bed of unwanted spindly weeds and grass.
A few weeks went by, and the damage to our street trees and plants along the sidewalk continued. It was frustrating. I wondered if pedestrians were being harassed by our plants, and took it upon myself to better prune and clean up along the walkways. We mowed, edged and blowed it clear. It cleaned up nice. It was nice before, in my opinion, but I wanted to be a good neighbor and make walking by good for everyone.
But then one day I heard it. The breaking off of branches in the garden. I caught my breath. This was the moment I'd catch the kids red handed. I'd march out there and give them a piece of my mind. Jerks. But then I saw her and her dog. The gruff neighbor who had scoffed at our jungle was the one doing the damage. I couldn't believe it. It was malicious and my hunch was right: it was being done on purpose. My heart sank a little. With sadness for what I thought was such a beautiful place, our garden, for all people to enjoy. It's a respite for wildlife, for visiting kids, and for us. And sadness for a person who walks this world with so much anger she rips at the things she passes. She wasn't a happy woman.
I was getting into my car the following week, and there she was on her walk with her dog. She saw me but pretended not to. I called out "hello there!" and waved, cheerily. She was forced to mumble something in return. I continued to engage with her. "We cleaned up the walkway really well over here! I hadn't realized it had become overgrown. And you know, I saw you the other day," I said to her. I imagined the blank stare coming my way from behind her sunglasses. I gestured to ripping and breaking while I continued, "I saw you breaking off our plants here in our garden, I want you to know I saw you, and I need to ask you to not do that again. If we need to prune things back, just let me know, but please stop it." She was dumbfounded. I smiled and wished her a good day as I got in the car. I meant it. I hoped she could find some beauty in her day, because her life must be pretty hard being angry all of the time. Can you imagine the dialogue that must go through her head? I wish her peace. The garden gives me enough of it to share with others, I'd just rather not do it through broken branches and lopped off flower heads, but instead through kindness, shared conversation, or a simple hello, neighbor.