Tiny Garden

Just outside the outer door of my apartment building (and just about on every block of downtown Corvallis), there is a a garbage receptacle. My landlord designed it and it is brilliant in my opinion. Made of cement, it has two compartments–the lower one houses the actual garbage can and the upper one is reserved for planting flowers. There is just enough space for a little bit of soil and a few pansies or succulents. The outer cement housing is decorated artfully with glass mosaic.

Unfortunately some late-night customers of the bar across the street ‘planted’ cigarette butts in the planter atop this garbage receptacle. For the first year of life in this apartment, I’d walk out the door, see the ashtray/planter and silently complain about the jerks that misused the planter. It took me a year of complaining before realizing that I could do something about this problem.

Up until then, I kept thinking, “I wish the authorities would do something to fix this. I wish someone would plant some flowers there. I wish someone would make those people stop putting out cigarettes in the planter.” One year of this.

The problem: I didn’t see myself as an authority; as anyone who could do anything to solve any problem. I’m still working on it. Through some trauma in my life, I have come to think of myself as nothing and no one. This has made it tough to succeed in many things during the past two years.

IMG_0443I am working on it though, and after a year of walking out that apartment door and seeing that planter, the idea that I could plant flowers there struck me. Finally. Since I didn’t have funds to buy much in the way of plants/flowers, on my daily walks, I took starts from the other planters on other blocks. Mostly, I planted succulents since I wouldn’t need to water often. The most surprising thing about it all is–the plants are thriving and no one is using that planter as an ashtray anymore!

My friend likes to use a phrase when she hears negative thoughts spin through her mind: Remove and Replace. This ashtray to flower planter experience has given me a perfect image of this phrase. I can thrive when I remove the old negative ones and replace them with more helpful ones. Sometimes this idea helps me a lot. Now all I need to do is to pay attention to that planter when I walk out my apartment door each day. And water it occasionally.


Broken Glass


Every day when I walk out my apartment door, I pass the familiar landscape of the city streets, the parking lot, the restaurants and bars on the corners. When I pass the covered bike parking area and bench, my dog Pearl usually likes to sniff in the newly bark dusted area and pick up any garbage the late night customers forgot to put in the nearby garbage can. Yesterday, I had to stop her because I noticed the sign saying, “Broken glass”, pointing to a shattered Coke bottle. Lucky for us someone took the trouble to make that sign. We might have stepped right into that broken glass and hurt ourselves. As we passed it, I actually chuckled and thought, ‘I should take a picture of that sign.’ But I continued walking and thought my photo opportunity had passed.

Nope. For a week now, the sign has remained, pointing out the obvious. Some good citizen took the trouble to find a suitable piece of cardboard and pen to make that sign. It even looks as if the pieces of glass have been carefully arranged to align with the curb. For the last few days, as Pearl and I pass the scene of the crime, I actually laugh out loud at the silliness of the whole thing. Who would take all the time to make that sign instead of simply picking up the glass and throwing it in the garbage 10 feet away?

This connection will seem obvious, but I will tell you that next I laughed at myself for all the times in my life that I’ve done something similar; times I’ve said, “Hey! X is a problem. I wish I could do something about X. Well at least I can raise awareness that X is a problem.” Many times, just acting to try to solve the problem would have been most effective, but I didn’t do it. The energy spent solving the problem would have been equal to the energy spent on raising awareness, but it just seemed like too much effort. Isn’t this just life? Learning to spend time taking care of what needs taking care of? Who needs me to point out the obvious?

I’d like to begin taking care of what needs taking care of; to tend what needs tending so that the world is better because of my actions, not just the same–with a sign.  Tomorrow, Pearl and I will remove the broken glass and the sign, as long as someone hasn’t already thought to do this.