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The secret gardener

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My working-class neighborhood here in central Maine is a cozy, if somewhat time-worn, filigree of a community wedged between a freight railroad and the Penobscot River. Its history, until not so long ago, was hardscrabble: Almost all the families had a connection to the woolen mills or sawmills on an adjoining island. Days were long, the work tedious, and coming home meant only a modicum of respite before beginning the next day's labor.

Such life experience shows in the unadorned, matter-of-fact nature of the properties here. Some houses are all but tumbledown; others are neat, square, and unpretentious. Many are well-kept wooden boxes sitting on lots without so much as a marigold to add a bit of color. Decoration is mostly a function of what raw nature affords: a weeping willow shading a stream, a grove of staghorn sumac (blaze red in autumn), a field of shadblow sporting tiny white blossoms, a dirt path disappearing into the pine woods.

The town doesn't dedicate many resources to my neighborhood. In my opinion, the reason is twofold: the relatively poor economic status of what was once disparagingly known as "Crow Valley," and the fact that our road is a dead end. Funds set aside for community beautification are concentrated up on "the hill," in the town center. When I made a formal request for some money for plantings to spruce the place up a bit, I was unceremoniously denied.

Acknowledging this, I decided to embark upon a quiet, modest, but - I believe - very important project. I walked to the edge of my neighborhood, the very place where the road from the rest of Maine feeds in. I stood there and looked around. What I saw was a rail line, and between it and the sidewalk a gravel, refuse-strewn buffer, perhaps eight feet wide. Across the road was a cement plant, also with its buffer. Not a tree, not a bush, not a daisy. Even the wildflowers seemed to reject this place.


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