A walk through my neighborhood: an essay and photo journal.I’ll be honest. I intimately know the flowers in my neighborhood, but hardly any faces. When I heard our word for this month was Neighbor I said, “Oh crap. All I know about neighbors is that good fences make good ones!” But as I began journaling a common glitter streaked through my stony thoughts:
I love my neighbors’ gardens. I battle social anxiety. Terrible, awful, dreadful social anxiety. It was at its peak when we first moved into our burrow, partially because the city frightened me. We live on a busy four lane street with people walking past all day and night, and all of the houses are built close together (I woke up this morning from the newborn baby crying in the window opposite ours). There are occasional robberies and shootings in the area, I’ve been sworn at in my own garden by a derelict, and I constantly have to pick up garbage from the sidewalk. I have never been a good neighbor because the thing I would love most is to simply be left alone.
The way I recovered from the more debilitating effects of my anxiety (ie: numbness, chest pain, shortness of breath) was simply walking through my neighborhood and soaking up nature. We live a block away from a hidden entrance to Ravenna Park, a forested ravine spanned by high wooden bridges. The darling craftsman and tudor houses along the park and in the streets surrounding have hardly any backyards so they fill the space from their doorsteps to the street with flowers. It’s like walking through a fairy tale. And the magical part for me is that I really had no idea it was all there when we moved in. I was so focused on our own street that I ignored the beauty at my fingertips. Silence and restoration were a stone’s throw away, I just had to get out the door. I began to discover it bit by bit, entranced as my fears of the city melted away.
And to my surprise, I began to socialize with my neighbors. I know Rose because I told her I loved her tiger lilies, and she invited me to see her woodland garden overlooking the woods. I know Darla and Marla because I liked their bright orange and pink dahlias and we struck up a conversation. I know the lady on the end of the street because every time I walk by she picks me flowers for the bouquet I already have in hand. I know the owner of our favorite bakery because when I asked for lavender syrup, she made it special just for me. I was nervous around the people we shared our easement with until the father told me I could snip flowers from their garden for my paintings. What better way to win over my heart?! I’ve learned little odds and ends about my neighborhood, all relating to landscape and gardens because when it comes to flowers, I am at peace.
This place that used to frighten me so has become my sanctuary. I still think the old saying is true, “good fences make good neighbors”…but if you line that fence with flowers, you may also make some friends.
Bridget Beth Collins.
Writer, painter, and naturalist.