Monday, October 6, 2008

Hidden Oases and Industrial Realities

On August 28, I went out on a walk during my last week at a particular part-time job.

I walked almost every day at lunch, letting the sun soak into my bones after a long morning in a refrigerated flower storage room. My greatest joy was to walk past a meadow bordering my work. While my work dealt with refrigerated, beauty-bred imported blooms, this meadow was the real thing. Filled with wildflowers, it was miraculously pristine amidst chemical-soaked concrete warehouses. I would get to the midpoint of the block, and turn so the meadow was stretching away in front of me and to my right and my left. A row of trees shimmered in the breeze, clouds descending from the blue sky to brush their tops. Cattails and queen anne's lace, birds and butterflies, all danced in the meadow. I used to look straight at it, the side shades of my sunglasses blocking the buildings on either side, and imagine I had just hiked up a mountain trail and reached this place of peace. I'd take a deep breath and smile.

Then I'd continue on, past the ominous billboard advertising the "Prestige Lot for Development."

But this day, August 28th, as soon as I step outside, I know something is wrong. I hear the sound of unoiled metal shrieking from the direction of the meadow. I don't want to think about what it could be. The crickets are still chirping, so it must be okay. Here, the crickets are so happy, they chirp even in the daytime.

But as I get closer, the squeaking increases, and I see that a bulldozer with wheels like a tank is vocalizing the horror of the insects and animals, flowers and plants fleeing or perishing in the destruction. A square of dirt extends behind the bulldozer, impossibly flat and brown next to the person-high flowers that had just towered there.

I cover my ears--for the sound is deafening--focus my eyes on the cement and walk quickly, a joyless walk. For my joy, my rest, my strength, my renewal, was in my meadow.

On the way back, the shrieking begins a long block away from the lot.

Getting closer, I again stare in disbelief at the now widening plot of bare earth. Where did the life go? Under the dirt? How does it all fit there?

What about the cat I saw the other day, and the fox family? Will there be any crickets left and could they possibly be so happy as to chirp during the day after this?

I'm tempted to put my work earplugs in, block out the screams, cross the street...but no, I want to hear it.

I pass the bulldozer, wondering if I should lay down in front of it. I walk on.

Slowing down, next to the remaining meadow, I cast a painful glance at the scene I used to love. A monarch butterfly--the only one I've seen this year--careens toward the desolate end of the meadow. It doesn't know yet, I think. It's tired and thinks it's finally found a place to rest. I wish it luck. A blue dragonfly skims over the flowers.

I turn my face to the unscarred portion of the meadow, and, my gaze racing to meet the trees, I do my sunglasses trick, probably for the last time.

Civilization is blocked out, only the meadow and its shimmering freshness in view. I pretend I have just climbed to a meadow on a mountain. Leaves, flowers. Moths, beetles. I let them live inside me, so I can hold them forever, God willing. Amen.

I head back to work, rounding the side of the meadow and nearing my building.

On this side of the meadow, the crickets are still chirping.

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