When a schoolyard became a garden

Day after day we had been cooped up in a stuffy classroom, plugging away at our Grade 5 lessons. But who could concentrate on a dull history assignment when brand new lambs were gamboling in farm pastures, white-faced calves were racing around corrals and fluffy yellow chicks were peeping out from under brooding hens? We envisioned our fathers out on the fields seeding new crops, our mothers planting big vegetable gardens. If only….

The teacher took advantage of our daydreaming to inject a few fantasies of her own.

“If you students would just co-operate,” she told us, “we could transform the entire schoolyard.”

Then she told us her vision of creating one gigantic garden offering cool respite and refreshing beauty to weary scholars. In view of the barren waste before us, punctuated only by gopher holes and a pile of cordwood, her words began to take on an appeal. Not only that, but Arbor Day would mean a welcome reprieve from the stuffy classroom.

Armed with rakes and shovels and hoes, it was a formidable but undisciplined army who marched out onto the school grounds on the appointed day.

The entire student body was out in full force, each of us marching to the tune of a different drummer. The big boys were intent upon mowing the long grass in left field so they wouldn’t lose the softball so often. The little boys were rearranging the woodpile to make a fort. The girls were insistent upon flowerbeds. The teachers, meanwhile, were in continual consultation with the caretaker, trying to elicit his co-operation for everything from pruning the willows along the government ditch to relocating the flagpole.

By noon an ultimatum had to be issued. Either we apply ourselves to the tasks appointed us or back into the classroom we’d go.

As we scoured every inch of the school grounds for debris, or nursed a blister brought on from raking, or pulled out slivers from a hoe handle, we had the distinct feeling Arbor Day was materializing into something much less than we had anticipated. Despite our best efforts, the schoolyard would never be a garden of Eden, even though one of the boys had rustled up a garter snake.

We were a dejected bunch as we plodded home from school that day.

When we returned the next morning there were no visible improvements, despite all the work. The grass in the schoolyard had borne the punishment of a hundred pair of feet and looked accordingly. The wild rose bushes we had moved closer to the school looked droopy and lifeless, the freshly seeded flowerbeds cracked and dry. When the bell rang, crickets still scurried into the crevices between the crumbling concrete steps.

So much for Arbor Day.

By fall we had forgotten all about it.

But someone else remembered.

All summer long, the friendly caretaker had been tending our broken dreams, weeding and watering what had been sown, filling in the bare spots with flowers of his own. When school opened in September, we were thrilled into silence by the riot of colour that met us.

Sunflowers nodded toward the morning sun. Red and white petunias at the base of the flagpole fluttered in the breeze. Yellow and purple pansies in shady corners peeked back at us with shy faces. The wild rose bushes were thick and green, the grass freshly cut.

It had simply taken time, and tending.

There are still situations in which I catch myself expecting immediate results from the efforts I have just expended. When that happens I think back to that Arbor Day so long ago, and of that other caretaker behind the scenes of life who tends to our disappointments and nurtures our dreams.

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