Spinach

Tom the landlord will be most distressed by the morning’s developments. They are spilling over, developments, leaving a trail of refuse upon the earth. Trashy, one word what’s happening. Which amounts to this. Menchu, of Team Filipina, emptied my rubbish and recycling, and now one of the bins is full. More than full, actually. Overflowing. Menchu, in fact, left a bag of rubbish next to one of the bins, positively adjacent. Tom most likely will take care of it. Although not without some amusement. On my part, that is. He will say something about too much rubbish. I will say something about getting more bins. And the beat will go on, the beat of domesticity on Roble Ave., Menlo Park.

Only a couple of days ago I was outside showing my visiting brother the burst of spinach in my garden, the two of us musing aloud upon the topic of flowers and pots and planters when things drifted toward the hedge. The dead one, that is. No, not entirely dead, just 90% moribund. Dry as matchsticks, scratching at passersby, the protruding twigs sharp as needles. The dead hedge.

I saw my chance. Because discussions with Tom have always proved fruitless, I generally give up. But not now. With my brother present, I plunged in. You know, I said, we should really replant that hedge. Oh, Tom said, giving a little laugh. This was the silliest of sillies, his tone suggested. He showed us, parting the gray, leafless bramble with his walking stick, the presence of a couple of brave bits of greenery. This has always been the case. For Tom this is the botanical conversation stopper. The hedge is not dead. Long live the hedge.

Let’s cut off the dead stuff, my brother suggested. Oh, no, no, he was getting firmer now, Tom was. And this is one of his most endearing qualities, his relative lack of firmness. He does not characteristically get too adamant. Which is a good thing. In the last couple of years he has endured both kids and dogs, both strictly verboten in these, his flats. Nonetheless, they have come, the small mammals, and he has mostly bitten his tongue.
Which is why I bite mine. What follows is predictable, Tom’s tale. No, can’t cut the hedge, because that is what happened in the past. Some gardener took his trimmer to this hedge and killed it. Above us, one of the big jets is groaning its way into San Francisco International Airport, sounds of hydraulics filtering through the morning air. Which is when Tom volunteers some additional information. That woman complains about the hedge. The sticks grab at her, she says. He sounds slightly amused. Debbie, my sister-in-law, says oh, I see, laughing lightly herself. The plot thickens. Tom is letting us in on his little merriment.

‘That woman’ is none other than Buffie, Tom’s neighbor of more than 10 years. There are only four neighbors across the way. She comprises 25%. So here we are. There is ‘that woman,’ and there is this hedge. Or hedges. They have overgrown to the point of narrowing the walkway by half. A good 18 inches of concrete is now occupied by aging or dying or actually dead branches. Let’s collect some money, I say, looking at no one in particular. Our hedge fund. General laughter, and then those assembled disperse. My brother and sister-in-law have things to do, a.k.a., being helpful. And within moments they are inside and lengthening the dining table for an evening party.

I can’t help but roll my wheelchair outside again. This time my destination is the garden. The weather is wet, there is nothing to be done in my raised beds, except stare. Which is what I have gone outside to do. To sit adjacent to the spinach and regard it. I really must remember to remove the bird netting. But I am too old to remember anything. So here we are, the spinach and I, protective netting and all. The latter is designed to keep squirrels off the crop. Not to worry. The plants are too big now. Squirrels don’t care.

Just look at the size of the leaves, lush and wide. One never sees spinach of this magnitude in the supermarkets. With the day’s late season rain, droplets of water cling to the underside of leaves, roll down the stems. The scene has the look of something staged for a television ad. Wouldn’t you like a bag of spinach? Or one of our spinach salads? Yum, Yum. Lush. And the same must now be said for the clover growing on the bed. The cover crop. Downright agricultural. Mine.

I feel rather foolish at this. Normal people do not sit about staring at spinach. That I am not normal only occasionally occurs to me. Perhaps it should. I have learned to find hope in the oddest places. I have learned to find hope period. And, yes, it has come to this, spinach staring. And generations on, others may follow this path. The Way of the Leaf.

There is a way, it must be found, and that is the point. I just read the weekly column of Melanie Reid, in London’s Sunday Times, disabled in a riding accident a couple of years ago. The evolution of her spinal cord injury differs from mine. Although it’s hard to say. I was injured in an era when the full complement of rehabilitation medicine was available as needed. Oh, there must have been some eyebrows raised when I stayed on and on, for a total of six months, on a rehab ward. But that time was fruitful. Reid seems to be doing a lot of rehab on an outpatient basis, which is good and bad, I would say. But never mind. I recognize her general experience. Getting better ‘later’ that neurologists have predicted. Discovering that familiar things are still possible.

I find it most interesting that she is back to horse riding. The old adage about getting back on the horse that threw you lived out in the most literal ways. Yes, hers was a riding accident. A Scot, she is riding horses at some disabled program near Bannockburn. Apparently she is past the sense of terror and returning to the scene of the neurological crime. And enjoying what horseback riding does for the sacral and thoracic spine. She is also getting back behind the wheel, driving a car around her part of Scotland.

She describes the joy she sees in the faces of the loved ones around her. Particularly her husband. In this regard, our experiences are different. But I was injured so young, my relationships so unformed that the reactions of others were quite secondary. No, what I recall was my own reencounter with hope. The mixture of relief and a bittersweet sort of joy at being able to do things, albeit only partially, that had always been in my life. Standing up, for example. Reid is walking with a frame, but making some progress. I can recall the feeling. Any progress feels miraculous.

I can even recall my experience of horseback riding 35 years ago on hilly Catalina Island. The entirely normal dips and sways of the equine experience terrified me. But, of course, I am no rider. What I do recall is that sensation in the lower back, the flexibility and perhaps the strengthening that seemed to come of balancing the torso. Melanie Reid, clearly more advanced in this department, describes feeling so secure on a small saddle that she recently sent her horse trotting. Mildly, perhaps, and with a handler close by. But such are the joys.

Which is enough to make me consider horse riding at this late stage of the life experience. And consider may be all that I shall do. Never mind. It speaks volumes that the thought even occurs to me. The much more reliable option being spinach staring. It keeps growing. I keep eating it. It grows some more. Then it all stops. Life.

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