Running by the Garden

Spring is now in full bloom so I can admit it. I’m not fond of crocuses. They pop up when the ground is still frost pocked and littered with the dead brown scales of the previous year, but their blossoms have a garish artificial color that reminds me of leftover Easter decorations. I appreciate the need for some life and color after a long winter, but sunny daffodils seem like the better herald of spring.I mention this because, as part of my late-50-something campaign to hold back time, I’ve resumed a routine of running a couple of miles most mornings. I actually enjoy it on nice days (once I’ve hit my modest stride) and I love the slightly smug glow I carry around the rest of the day knowing I’ve done my exercise. But for some reason, the practice makes me more critical, e.g. the crocuses. It doesn’t help that I get to observe my neighbors’ recycling habits one morning a week.

I’m astonished how many people callously mix cardboard and paper or stuff non-recyclable foam meat trays into non-recyclable grocery bags and leave these for the boys in green to sort out. (And what’s with all the wine boxes? Must be a south-end Concord thing.)

This critical spirit is, fortunately, a temporary side effect of the aerobically overstimulated brain. By the time I get to work, I’m my usual winsome self.

My morning run often takes me down Concord’s Birch Street, a trail of dirt and broken asphalt that passes only a few, recently planted, birches. It runs between the enormous lawn of a sprawling apartment complex and a few acres of city land that has been subdivided into small public garden plots.

By the time this issue goes to press, those plots will be plowed and mulched, tidy and expectant. Some gardeners will have already set up little tables and benches to rest with a beer after a day of weeding — all the better to observe what poet Dylan Thomas called “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” But running past the plots in early spring reveals only a shambles of old garden stakes and tattered black plastic, bent wire and cracked planter pots. Even the once-whimsical scarecrows hung here and there are coated in grime and give off an unsettling “Blair Witch” vibe, more likely to scare small children than birds.

In April, a critical observer might look at those garden plots and recommend the city send out a bulldozer and level the site, then put down rolls of turf to match the other side of the road. But then you’d never see what a group of regular folks can do when they take ownership, each of their own little patch, clean it up, plant some beans and kale and hang a fresh new scarecrow. By mid-summer, as I (hopefully) run by, those once bleak gardens will be a crazy-quilt of life, color and community.

So, though a morning run through the neighborhood can arouse a critical eye for the loose ends and the untidy details of life, if you do it regularly and long enough, you eventually get the big picture.

But I still prefer daffodils to crocuses.

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