Land Transformed

There is an area of land at the corner of Memorial Drive and the Boston University Bridge in Cambridge that reaches from the road and goes down hill to the Charles River.

The area is home to Canadian and white geese who sit or waddle in large numbers beside old railroad tracks, unafraid of the one freight train that comes by every evening. Farther on a small tunnel is covered from top to bottom with beautiful graffiti, city art that brightens the dark inside.

Since moving here four and a half years ago this piece of land has been covered in brambles. It’s known that the area is used by the homeless and those who find it a useful place to get high.  It’s not pretty and I wouldn’t go there after night fall.

In the past months we’ve watched the transformation process of the land. It is quite remarkable. Brambles have been torn down and replaced with tilled earth and fresh new plants, rust-colored pine chips carefully surrounding each plant. These are roped off allowing them to root and new grass is planted throughout this space.

A wide part beginning at the road, narrowing as it goes downhill, is covered with gravel marking walking space. It then slopes further toward the water allowing for easy access, letting the walker have a great view of the river and rowers gliding under the bridge.

It is becoming a lovely piece of land. It is being transformed. It has happened so slowly that I’m not sure when we began to notice it. We first wondered what had happened to the area – something was clearly changing. We wondered what the planners had in mind. We speculated and moaned a bit “Wouldn’t it be nice if they changed this area – made it into a nice park? I wonder why the city doesn’t do something” and off we would go on our walk, forgetting about it.

And then one day it began to emerge. A picture was forming on this bit of land. A picture that allowed us to begin imagining how lovely it was going to be. Slowly the picture, like an artist painting a landscape, is becoming clearer by the day.

It is land transformed. It will be beautiful in the summer and the geese are already enjoying the space as they trespass single file into the area.

This land transformed has been a life-transforming lesson for me. It is so obvious that there is change, but it hasn’t always been that way. We have bemoaned the look of this piece of land many times, not at all willing to believe the transformation would occur.

I am impatient when it comes to change and the transformation process. I don’t want to “see through a glass dimly”, I want to see with clear eyesight and I want it NOW. I don’t want to go through the pain of pruning and having brambles removed; the earth of my heart tilled. I don’t want it to be slow in me or anyone else. My annoyance with the park prior to its slow transformation is telling.

True confession? I hate needle point for this very reason. It’s so slow. I know the result is amazing and beautiful, but it takes too much time for tiny stitches from different colored thread to emerge on the cloth as a picture and I’m not willing to go through the process.

Human hearts and souls are like this land, heavy with brambles that make access difficult. Yet even as my heart sits, there is this Master Planner at work, slowly but confidently seeing something that most passers-by, unaware of the process, do not see. Until one day, brambles have been pruned, the beauty of transformation emerging from beneath and I realize it’s been happening all along.

Beauty in Hard Spaces – A Porch Garden in the City

I live in a place where houses are close, apartments are closer and green space is limited. I love where I live, but like Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden sometimes I want to say “Please Sir, may I have a bit of earth?”. Though I love the city, there is a desire to have beauty from nature color my world.

People more creative than I, namely my Chinese neighbor, develop garden spots in the most unlikely places, providing beauty not only for themselves, but for any stranger that happens to pass by. The first year we lived here I would look longingly across the street at So’s porch, so full of flowers and plants I could hardly see the front door.

This year it’s our turn. Geraniums, Impatiens, petunias and a lot of flowers that shall remain nameless (I don’t know their names) are planted in pots of various shapes and sizes. A hanging plant graces the porch pillar and a large bowl-shaped container of pansies is on an old chair. Set side by side at the window  like two mismatched guards are a shefflera and a pot full of varying types of flowers, forcing all who enter to stop and enjoy.

Below the porch a postage stamp yard, tilled by my husband, boasts of newly planted annuals and perennials.

I love this. I feel like I could fill every bit of space with flowering plants and still want more. It transforms an old porch worn from harsh winters, the peeling paint and scuffed steps hardly noticeable as the human eye moves beyond those realities to something more compelling.

Beauty in hard spaces. Those who have lived or visited in poor areas of the world know that it is possible to see beauty in places you least expect. There is often an initial shock and disbelief that people actually live in the poverty that surrounds you, but once that shock has settled into a determination to face reality, you notice the quilt made of scraps of fabric that others had discarded, brightly colored and sewn with little stitches providing beauty in a mud hut. You suddenly realize that the woman you are speaking with is wearing clothes thrown away by the rich, only to be rescued by the artistry of needle work, transforming old and torn into beautiful and bright. And if you’re eyesight really heals, you might even see the single rose, surviving against all odds, in a slum.

And as I look at our garden, our small, seemingly inconsequential garden, I am left without doubt that God, the “beauty for ashes” God, delights in porch gardens in the city, in beauty in hard spaces and places.

Where have you seen beauty in hard places and spaces, beauty where you least expect it? 

"Please Sir...May I have a bit of earth?" Before