As I write this, it is September; and the evening sky has deepened to the color of ripe apricots. Under the heat is a soft breeze that seems cool, almost, and the rhythmic, resonant cicadas of summer have left us to the high, lonely whistle of crickets.
September brings a kind of urgency to things that want to go on living. Yesterday, at my farm, I was potting-on little seedlings of chard and kale, cabbages, lettuce and collards. By the time you read this article, we will be enjoying some of those leafy delicacies at dinner, laying our autumn mulches and burning away the summer vines.
While I set tender seedlings to new earth, one of my heroes, Sally Wylde, was laid to rest. Her friends and family gathered in her community, said their words and walked with her to the garden she labored over for the last part of her life. Cancer comes like September to so many people we love.
Sally is a common hero to many of us. She is the strong back, aching knees and quiet spirit of the Oakhurst Community Garden. She is the one that staked claim to the brambled lot down her street and to the resources of a community – its children, neighbors, bagged leaves and free compost, Saturday weed pullers and chicken husbands, goat feeders and seed planters, dreamers, hopers and doers. That fine place will continue to brim with activity and the laughter of children. The community that Sally has grown will live, perhaps, forever.
She was the kind of dichotomy that only a woman can be – fierce and warm, soft and strong, open and private. She was patrician and direct, yet never intimidating or callous. I had deep respect for this mix of things and I enjoyed her humor and the presence she commanded.
She charges us city gardeners with a legacy of growing community, a legacy of hard work in the face of absurdity and a sense that change is possible if you have enough time, determination and mulch.
Sally was on my mind while I wheel-barrowed flats of new seedlings to their protecting benches and watered them gently with my grandfather’s old watering can. She would have appreciated the effort and the quiet work of making things better than they are.