The Garden Path Not Traveled

23
The Garden Corner,

It was a bright sunny fall day when the shiny deep-green Jaguar rolled gently to a stop into the first parking spot in the nursery.

I had been emptying summer hanging baskets into the “green goods” dumpster, not my favorite job, especially since these particular baskets had already begun to decay and turn brown. I could smell the earthy rotten mixture of stagnant water and brown foliage, much of it running down my bare arms and somehow finding its way through the open tears of my rain gear. As I stood upright to see who might have arrived, I also felt the distinctive slosh of water through my shoes.

Apparently today, I wasn’t doing anything halfway.

The car door opened, but only a single well-dressed leg managed to step out while the rest of the person paused. “Cell phone call,” I thought as I hunted for some rag to wipe myself clean but lacking that, just managing several quick swipes across my thighs with an equally dirty open hand.

As I passed the car, I heard a distinctive voice I hadn’t heard since I was in college several years ago. “I think I recognize those shoes.”

It was my close college friend Amish. Our paths had diverged many years ago, but somehow he had managed to find me.

At the sound of his voice, a rush of neatly stored memories came tumbling forward, as if someone had instantly turned a garden hose on full blast. Of course, it was Amish. I could recognize his humor anywhere.

In college, we had taken many of the same science courses together. We had crammed for exams late at night together. We enjoyed the same pan-fried noodles from the same food cart daily. Even our dark, dingy science labs, his labs studying some cardiovascular thing using crickets and mine studying lymph hearts in Bufo marinus (a kind of bullfrog) were located right next to each other. (Why, why, why? We always asked each other.)

We even applied to nearly the same medical schools together. Worse still? We were accepted to the same school.

“We’re going to be doctors together!” We joked to each other. “Except we’re going to do it like the buddy system in the army.”

During one of our very first study sessions meeting Amish in the university library, we had just moments before being inadvertently in neighboring stalls in the…ahem…bathroom. We noticed each other’s shoes from beneath the partition, and then later, when actually meeting, we noticed again each other’s shoes. Thus, his first comment after all these years. It still makes me laugh.

But we took different paths when he went to Medical school on the east coast, and I opted to wait to be accepted in Oregon. I waited and waited, and finally, after much contemplation turned to what I really liked best: gardening.

In a strange, other-worldly way then, meeting Amish was like meeting my other path.

When we opted to talk over a competitive ping-pong match outside in the garden, I knew our sense of humor remained solidly intact. It didn’t take long before the years apart had vanished, yet I continually peppered him with questions. What was a typical day like for him? What worries him most? Where does he want to go from here?

It was obvious that his day, his worries, his dreams had equally diverged from mine. We weren’t the same persons, of course, but I think because we chose vastly different professional paths, it had changed our lives drastically.

Amish was impeccably dressed. I smelled of earthy decay. He worried about maintaining two homes. I didn’t tell him how I expertly did my own plumbing because I didn’t want to call a professional. He was excited about the newest model of BMW. I often opt to drive a delivery truck because I don’t have to remove my rain gear or garden tool belt for that matter.

As he got back into his car and pulled away, I could hear his Bluetooth phone ringing above the ultra-quiet motor. “Oh,” I thought. “What if?” As his car whisked away.

I turned to snip an old bloom off a still-colorful echinacea. The vibrant colors of the remaining blooms were magnificent in the late fall sunshine. There was a cool fall breeze blowing leaves across the nursery, and I heard the familiar sound of a set of sprinklers turning on; sputtering and spraying a table of deep green and burgundy shrubs.

Amish, an old friend, was happy doing what he was doing, and I was grateful at the thought of him. I grabbed a nearby rake and started in, and suddenly at that moment, it occurred to me. I was happy doing what I was doing too.