Bird houses in the El Corazon de Belén Community Garden
There come times when I feel the need for community, despite having decided to settle for a bit in a small, isolated place where I know few people. These days I am mostly a solitary person, generally found at home with my dogs, but this doesn’t mean there are no people in my life. They are where they need to be — but not near. The lack of being acquainted with many in this place can send me wandering, taking notice of the kinds of places where a few souls can be found passing time at work, reading, gardening, creating art, going to court, eating out, going to jail or chasing their runaway dogs.
I like to start with the biggest canvas and work myself in to where individuals share their stories with me.
One recent, cold morning it was either shopping or not much to eat. Perhaps resisting my hurry to get the job done, the Inner Klutz spilled water all over me while watering bonsai. It being a cold November morning the wise thing to do involved drying off before heading out. Thus the sun was getting midway up the sky before I rolled off in my aging power wheelchair.
The El Corazon de Belén Community Garden
Past the city’s surprisingly spacious new library with a generous courtyard, the HardKor gym where the parking lot can be completely full, the Department of Motor Vehicles where the gentle, elderly clerk (who had a handmade sign up in his glass booth, selling sterling silver jewelry) made me remove my glasses for my driver’s license photo recently — guaranteeing that nobody would ever guess it was me.
Past the Art League with its big painted zebra out front, where various friends display and sell their artwork or take water color lessons, past several lawyer offices in cookie dough adobe, past Rita’s New Mexican Restaurant where you might see ten or fifteen cop motorcycles pulled in, or three or four rattly old trucks alongside a high end, high up, four door pickup, blindingly shiny.
Past the Municipal Court where offenders captured by said law enforcement frequently find themselves. Past the cop shop, doctor’s offices, dentist place, the two community pharmacies. Old, boarded up city offices — looking festive, despite their decrepitude.
Past the community garden, where I had to duck to evade many sunflowers growing through the fence into sidewalk space.
The community garden called to me, a place I had been meaning to photograph all summer, now clad in slowly dying greens, browns, golds, pinks and oranges. For once nobody was sitting under the new canopy at the corner of 6th and Dalies, the one the city had ripped out last spring, then replaced with an identical model — for a reason best known to the city council.
The garden shed, mainly put together with repurposed materials
I look for him, but am missing my veteran acquaintance, who often reads under the canopy. The black Labrador who is wild to all but him rests at his feet when he’s there. Yet.. With a heavy backpack, this “just another soldier” is a wanderer. Out of view for weeks now. The two of them striding south for the cooler months, perhaps. One day on my way into the market there was the dog, sitting untied by the ice machine, looking straight ahead, concentration absolute, keeping her place until her soldier should return. I knew then that this was a one man dog, that I would never offer to scratch her ears.
The community does not forget its more memorable special residents. The garden holds a small stone bench inscribed to Trini Pito Pito Baca, another man who wandered the city streets. For some decades there he was, smiling, waving and greeting just about everyone. He had a family to care for him — he simply preferred long daily walks. When he died a year or two ago his funeral was packed with people to see off the man with the beautiful smile.
Often in summer there is an accessible city transport van pulled up by the garden, out of which emerge two or three people in wheelchairs and a few gardeners. A team effort, it is. Some watch as others move between raised planters like so many flocking, gleaning birds who swiftly pull, tug, rearrange plants. Coming together for chats, moving apart to water planters or move a wheelchair into a shadier spot.
They swoop in, they swoop out just as fast, leaving the garden empty, quivering a little, perhaps, from their lingering vibrations.
Here are a few photos from this high desert community garden in the area called the Heart of Belén. There are colorful bird houses, a garden shed and covered bench made of repurposed materials, numerous raised boxes full of tomatoes, cosmos, sunflowers, morning glories, several herbs used in local healing practices, and lots of multi headed sunflowers.
Mysterious trickster forces slung an upside down rainbow into one of the photos … Amidst the plant containers perches a free lending library, which held fewer books than normal. Very possibly because it faces south, we’ve had lots of rain lately, and storms generally come from the southwest.
The books inside to the left.
Following Atticus by Tom Ryan is a favorite …
But you can stuff the low fat living book in a dark place, by me. Bad science in that thing.
Inexorably, the heavy touch of nights below freezing creep into the living garden where fewer readers and resting ones will stop to spend a few contemplative moments, no longer offering themselves to the gaze and conversations of passersby like me. And the reading bench will be empty of all but a few passing birds…