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Signs Of Life

Columns by Pamela Majteles

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Happy Endings

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Posted by pam on January 14, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Originally published September 1, 2006

This column is reprinted with permission from The Hills Newspapers.

There are not enough happy endings.  Too many events in the world today remind me of the kind of novels read in book clubs.  Happy endings are as hard to find in great works of literature as they are in real life.  For once, it would be nice if life were less like great literature and more like a children’s book.

In my own book club, we read an impressive array of books with a lot in common.  Recent selections include John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Orhan Pamuk’s Snow, and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance.  All by authors considered to be among the finest writers of both the past and present.  Each has been considered for a prestigious award or received one.  If an award were given for stories with adversity and tragic endings alone, these books would all be big winners.

Looking around today, we could use a real life story that reads like a good children’s book instead of an award winner.  The ideal story would be similar to a children’s classic like The Rainbow Fish.  Although Rainbow Fish faces plenty of adversity in the book, he manages to succeed in the end.

Recently, I stumbled upon just such a story at Racine Point Park in Oakland.  Located on a small parcel between 58th and 59th streets on Telegraph Avenue, most people would recognize it as a traffic median with plantings rather than a park.  Several years ago, some neighbors in the area got together to ask the city of Oakland for permission to plant a garden at this location.

Like the challenges facing Rainbow Fish, there were challenges for this group of neighbors.  Although Oakland eventually granted permission, it took ten years for neighborhood leaders, John Wagers and Jonathan Bohm, to receive approval.   Along with their approval, the city promised to provide soil.  The soil, however, proved inadequate for planting.  With proceeds from a neighborhood garage sale, the group was able to buy proper soil for the project.

Armed with soil, the neighbors went about creating a garden as practical as it is decorative.  The whole park is surrounded by a fence built out of eucalyptus tree trunks – the trunks come from eucalyptus tree seedlings that have died naturally. Like an eye-catching picture frame, the rustic fence sets off the attractive plantings within it.  A promising fourteen foot oak tree holds center stage among the drought resistant plants (the oak tree debuted in the park as an acorn when it was only twelve inches tall). The overall effect of this tidy garden on gritty Telegraph Avenue is like that of a well-groomed hairdo on a rebellious teen.

Even after the creation of the garden, these neighbors faced further challenges just as Rainbow Fish does in the children’s book.  At various times, the fence has been vandalized and plants have been stolen.  Also, after the garden was planted, PG&E dug a hole right in the middle of it looking for a power line that turned out not to be there.  (PG&E later paid the costs to repair the garden.)  In spite of the adversity, these neighbors continue to prevail with their regular care and maintenance of the garden.

What really makes The Rainbow Fish a satisfying story is the way everyone comes together in the end, and that is found at Racine Point Park as well.  Along with the combined efforts of neighbors, others are helping also. UC Berkeley provides the eucalyptus trunks used in the fence around the garden.  For the times manual watering is necessary, the neighboring mattress store shares their water supply.  The church next door to the garden helps by volunteering members of the congregation for regular maintenance like weeding.

These days when I am looking for relief from larger events in the world, I think of smaller stories such as one about a community garden in Oakland.  Like in children’s books, I can believe happy endings are possible.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

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