Why I Write Vol 15: Victory Gardens
In this series, "Why I Write," members of the Grub community share what compels them to put words onto paper day after day. In this edition, Tanushree Baidya shares the importance of pushing through and keep writing and exploring.
I am taking a writing workshop and one of the assignments is to write about beauty or beautiful things. It is a simple assignment. The purpose is to make you more observant of your world and your life. Groan!
I make some coffee and stare at my laptop screen for a while. I look out my window at the seemingly pleasant November morning. The last days of Fall prance in all their glory in the morning sun. The top of the Prudential Tower peaks at a distance. I am struggling. The disenchantment that I have begun to feel after the elections is hard to shake off. Every aspect of my life is jolted. Writing even more so. Each morning I wake up with an uncomfortable feeling at the pit of my stomach. I feel let down. By whom, I am not quite sure. I want to blame someone. As a foreigner, as an immigrant, I always live with some uncertainty, but this is a different feeling: this is fear. How do I find beauty in fear? So I write 2,315 words about how dismal I feel. I try to be eloquent, but instead I am petty and I whine. It gives me no relief and there is still the assignment, past due. It feels like a chore now. I decide to go for a walk. Walking should help, it should inspire, I hope without a prayer.
I make my way to the nearby Fenway Victory gardens, the oldest surviving victory garden in the country. Seven acres of land divided into small fenced garden plots. Like a checkers board. I walk past a creek (it is called Muddy River). On a fallen branch over the water I notice a sleek gray bird with long legs (my guess, it’s a Heron) warily watching the Geese squawking. I then walk by the different plots, admiring them. Some plots only grow vegetables, and some are flower and herb gardens. Some have lavish bonsai collections in different shades of Fall. The bees are buzzing over the bright red Dahlias and the rose bushes. There’s also marigold, petunias, and bluebells. I take my time, stop often, something I haven’t done in a while. I spot some blooming patches of yellow red Nasturtiums and Daffodils, and tall Sunflower plants with their big brown heads drooping. The petals are gone. Sigh. At the vegetable garden, the herbs are still bright green and there are fennel plants with yellow flowers. But the tomatoes, the kale, and the arugula seem quite out of sorts. There are also plump but rotting Zucchinis, teeny pumpkins, and squash strewn everywhere. I can make out some purple flowers on the lavender plants. Ahh, the last days of Fall. The breeze picks up. A gentle rustling of leaves, suddenly a riot of colors—golden, brown, red, and pale— like confetti takes over the landscape. I see some gray bunnies and fat squirrels peeking and darting around. I bask in the vaunted solitude.
The first time I learnt about the origin of these gardens was when I had moved to the Fenway neighborhood three years ago. I was mesmerized by its beauty, so different from anything I had seen before. And its history added to my enchantment. These gardens were established back in the 1940s when President Roosevelt urged citizens to grow their own food to reduce pressure on the nation’s food supply during World War II. Mandatory food rationing was a part of life in America during wartime. It was a wonderful movement. It empowered the citizens and made it possible for farmers to send more of their food overseas to feed U.S. troops. After the war, the federal funding was stopped. This was prime land in the heart of the city, right opposite the Fenway Park. Numerous developers began sniffing at it for construction possibilities. But the wartime Boston Garden committee managed to convince the town to preserve the gardens and save it from development. A wonderful community of urban gardeners (Boston residents) continue to maintain these gardens. Surplus food is sent to Soup kitchens.
I am now at the bridge. I stare at the Muddy River beneath. It flows past the garden plots, reflecting the blue sky above. The tall grasses, with wispy ends, are swaying in the breeze. The water and the trees by the creek in their Fall color glory shimmer in the sunlight. There are Geese everywhere. A meadow cocooned in the city. Timeless. I take in the view of the meadow and the Victory gardens. I breathe in deep. A horn blares and snaps me out of my reverie. I walk on smiling, circling the park.
It feels ironic and almost serendipitous to be reminded of the history of Victory Gardens this way. I am glad to write about it on a day that truly felt uninspiring. It may seem like navel gazing, and tomorrow I may feel worse, tomorrow I may write 2,316 more words, sans beauty. As writers, we must still chase that thought, that fear, face that writing prompt or assignment, go back to an old half-finished story, make an essay out of a Facebook post. No matter what, keep writing and exploring.
“Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be...” ― William Wordsworth
Tanushree is a software analyst and writer living in Boston. She grew up in India. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in The London Journal of Fiction, The Wrong Quarterly, and Open Space India. If you’re ever in a Boston café and see someone writing next to an old crumpled copy of The Stranger, that’s likely her.
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