A reflection on gardeners who gladden my heart with their plantings of yesteryear, now grown to magnificent maturity.
Driving over the bridge across the canal, I enter the stretch of this artery that is—to my Western Canadian sensibilities—just a few feet too narrow for four lanes of traffic zooming to and from the downtown. As the road curves left, my eyes are front as I focus on staying in my ever-so-slightly inadequate lane. But something out of the ordinary in my peripheral vision alerts the danger sensors in my driving brain. Is a taxi in a side street pushing into this nose-to-tail chain of vehicles? A cyclist joining the flow by making his own lane, without benefit of stopping? A pedestrian getting ready to step off the curb?
Glancing right, I gasp, involuntarily.
A mature—not to say ancient—crabapple is in full and glorious bloom. Pink, pink and more pink—the flowers overwhelm the light-green leaflettes emerging along the deeply grooved, spreading branches. The tree itself overwhelms the small front yard typical of this older residential area, ramping up the impact. Pink, pink, and more pink! My goodness.
Then I’m past it, focused again on avoiding cars, taxis, bicycles, and pedestrians, and on keeping an eye on that pesky bus in the lane ahead. A few hours later, my errands done, I head back along the canal, whose roadside splendour is courtesy of City workers and taxpayers of ages past.
Spring may be Ottawa’s best season. Beyond the tulip festival, every main corridor into the downtown is brightened for a few weeks by flowering trees. The Albertan within marvels at their number and variety. The gardener within marvels at their size, knowing too well how long it takes to grow even a decent lilac.
That’s when it hits me. The tree I saw this morning has almost certainly outlasted the people who planted it, people who were seeking only to beautify their yard, their small corner of the world. When they plunked it into its hole, did they give even a thought to the decades-long staying power of the beauty they were planting? Did they know how many people would take that beauty with them, yet leave it there, intact, for the next passerby?
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interrèd with their bones.
Marc Antony in Julius Caesar
Ironic that it would be Shakespeare giving voice to this less-than-cheery world view about the relative staying power of good and evil, or, even, of a good or ill reputation. Shakespeare—whose possible evils, probable pecadilloes, and undoubted clever/cutting remarks are long-since forgotten—but whose work lives on, magnificently.
Maybe different rules apply to the legacies of leaders and politicians compared to, say, poets and playwrights. Maybe different rules apply to regular folks like us compared to, say, artists. And maybe not. As spouses, parents, friends, co-workers, neighbours, and community members, maybe we can all take our lead from those anonymous, regular-folks gardeners and plant a little beauty: both for our own small corner and for the ages.