In the garden

There is a large bit of garden out behind the Zen Center, owned by a loose family of semi-feral cats and a heckling gallery of birds. A community garden, largely derelict, displays raised beds in the middle of it: some with spindly trellises, most with no memory of former cultivation. A thin plastic shed spills gardening oddities onto the ground, like an installation piece by a post-modern farmer. Once Nathanial, the darling two-year-old who lives next door, got into the installation piece and made it interactive. His mother indulged him until he tried to pry a rusted pitchfork out of the ground.

The cats are shy, the birds are not. How many cats patrol the tangled fen that runs between Yale properties on the upside of the hill opposite us and the community garden, I couldn’t say. They were all feral at one point but a local humane coalition gathered them together, spayed or neutered and vaccinated them, and now provides food, water, and cat-boxes. I think some of the cats, like the thin kittenish orange who limps and twitches his way between the garden and the houses across the way, are simply visitors who take advantage of the free food. Others, like the knobby marmalade who’s too old to care and too slow to run away from me in any case, are certainly permanent residents of the three cat-boxes behind the Zen Center shed. I know there’s a black tom and another marmalade, large and wary, who are also resident. And so too is the little gray and the smaller black who most often occupy the sunny back porch two houses over; but there may be more. They give me berth but seem to be warming up. By that I mean that in six months of hearing me approach to take out the Center compost and scattering once I rounded the corner of the shed, they now watch me for two or three breaths before slinking off to the garden periphery. Except that bony old marmalade. He’s stayed with me most of the afternoon today, although he declined my offer of a guacamole-covered chip. He walked gingerly back and forth behind me, sampling food and water, a sunny ledge and the cat-box. Another couple cats materialized, gazed on me, and crept away again.

The birds. They’re various. I’m not a birder, so I don’t know exactly, but I’ve seen hawks, male and female cardinals, jays, grackles, some medium-sized and several smaller songbirds including a delightful one with a rose breast and a smallish crest, and cedar waxwings. I’ve also heard woodpeckers. The birds steal the cat food. They call across the fens. They make this space remarkable: I can still hear the cars going on Prospect Street, down from the Divinity School, past the chemistry and physics labs, but now they are the background noise. This reverses the usual relationship in this largely urban environment. Right now it’s mostly squirrels argueing in the trees up the hill, bird-song, and the long exhalation of the afternoon.

The wind’s moving the thin branches of the trees over one another, like bony fingers, creaking, squeaking.

I’m thinking of May Sarton, and the Journal of a Solitude I read many years ago. Solitude: what is it, exactly?

The crocuses have come up in plentitude and fullness. I think another four days, and they will begin to lose their petals, their hardiness sunk to tender, fragile mortality. Then the daffodils will bloom, the tulips, but especially the daffodils, all over this city. And then it will be spring, finally, perhaps.