Neighbors of ours lent us the key to their back garden.
Four flights down and half a block over, I make our way down a corridor, across their spotless kitchen, and out the screen door—wrought iron scrolls over aluminum mesh—into the very green heart of our shared Brooklyn block. The neighbors’ little rectangle is half concrete and half grass and all the way Heaven.
The heart-shaped leaves of an Eastern Redbud act as protective parasol for the table where I start to work, but it’s not the only shade to be found. There are towering pin oaks and the tallest Japanese maple I’ve ever seen. A few doors down, sunlight streams through the overlapping fronds of a locust tree. I’m tempted away from work to play naturalist but I decide to tuck leaves into my notebook to ID after dark. There’s birdsong back here, too, and a ceaseless rattling roar of air conditioning units. A chatty neighbor talks on the phone, hidden from view by a chainlink fence covered in English ivy. She’s asking the person on the other end of the line “not to listen to that idiot,” and so I’m trying that, too.
In the few quiet hours I have here alone, I can feel the pieces of my brain, fractured by months of working without proper childcare or privacy, begin to piece back together. Whole sentences are getting formed without anyone calling my name. I’m making slow progress and typing one-handed but it’s not for having an infant on my lap. My fingertips are dusted with nutritional yeast on popcorn that I don’t have to share.
I came here to write about a garden made of clippings from tender herbs. Back home, I’ve stripped the bottom leaves and made fresh snips in the stems of farmers’ market mint and basil. The stems are plunged into miniature mason jars and filled with water that catches the sunlight. With any luck, the stems will soon sprout tiny roots that I’ll plant in an illicit pot on the window ledge. There’s a jar of sun tea brewing there now; amber colored and growing darker.
“Alrighty. I’ll let you go,” says the chatty neighbor into her phone. I pack up my bag to head home for dinner. As I close the screen door behind me, I hear the sputter of a sprinkler turning on in someone else’s little rectangle. We’re all soaking our roots and hoping they will grow.