Sunday, May 6, 2012

To the "plant people" on 66th Street: Thank you.

I walk our dog, Isis, every day, and if I happen to get around to walking her while it's still light outside, I take advantage of Urbandale's trail system. If I cross the street and walk about another hundred feet, I can access a trail that takes us a couple miles -- perfect for a relatively small dog and an owner who's still battling some post-surgical knee swelling.

A couple of weeks ago, I began noticing, behind one of the houses that backs up to the trail, something curious: A milk jug filled with water, with the word "free" written on it. And next to it, an assortment of plants, much like the ones in the photo above -- which I happened to take home today. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The owners of the home must be master gardeners, or, at the least, aficionados, because they have some really lovely landscaping -- terracing, shrubs, annuals, perennials, vegetables, flowering trees, you name it. And like many gardeners, they obviously end up with an overabundance of plants.

And they give them away. Daily. To strangers.

Now, I'm Italian-American, and like most folks of my breed, I like a bargain, But even I felt funny as I surveyed the plants that first day. First, I looked around for a "Candid Camera"-type arrangement (that's an earlier version of "Punked" to you younger readers). Then I channeled one of my favorite writers, Frank Bruni, who mentioned in his memoir, "Born Round," that his Italian grandmother always wondered aloud, "What would the people think if I take something for free?"

I understand that feeling; I mean, we can afford plants. But they were just sitting there, and they were perfectly good, and they were free. So I chose two, took them home, and transplanted them. What a nice thing for those neighbors to have done, I thought.

A few days later, as Isis and I walked down the trail, I saw more plants. I didn't stop, not wanting to seem greedy. But on the way back, I saw a woman and her son walking toward me with a child's wagon filled with the free annuals! So I didn't feel as guilty when I snatched up two more to take home.

Today, I saw three lone chive plants sitting out by the makeshift sign, and Isis and I gathered them up as we meandered home. And although I probably really, truly won't take more, I'm still amazed by this thing that's transpiring.

In this day and age, when so many of us don't know our neighbors, what's prompted these kind gardeners to go to the trouble every day of digging up their extra plants, packaging them in potting soil, labeling them and setting them out on the trail? Why take the chance that they'll be wasted by kids who will throw them at one another, or be taken by folks who won't plant them properly?

Every day as we walk, I tell myself to go around to the front of the house, ring the bell, and thank the neighbors properly. But I haven't yet done that, and I can't even really fool myself into thinking that this blog post will suffice as a "thanks."

So I'm honestly trying to figure out what to do in return for the generosity of these kind neighbors. And while I'm doing that, maybe this will serve as a reminder to us to "pay it forward" -- or, at the least, to go the extra mile and, for no reason at all, do something nice.

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