Chris Galvin

Chris Galvin’s creative non-fiction and photography have appeared in several literary, travel and culture magazines in Vietnam, the U.S., and Canada. Her work is also forthcoming in Room Magazine and in Spezzatino, a food magazine that feeds people. She is currently working on a book of essays about life as a Canadian expat in Vietnam. Garden is an excerpt from a five part essay, Seasons of the Lake, pending publication in the anthology, The City We Share (Shoreline Press).

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Excerpt from Seasons of the Lake

A pool of orange and pink spread across the sky, chasing the last of inky night down the western horizon. I carried my coffee out to the patio and positioned a chair for the first rays of sunlight reaching through tree branches to dazzle my eyes.

The air was already sultry. Dewdrops on the lettuce glinted and twinkled in slanting shafts of light. Something rustled in the foliage, and pulled a few leaves down from behind, revealing a brown head with beady black eyes and round cheeks full of greens. The groundhog tore off another shred. In a quandary, I watched. It was close enough that I could see its long yellow teeth, and whiskers, moving in rhythm with its placid chewing, but I didn’t want to lose my vegetables to this furry intruder. As I started to rise, the animal lifted a forepaw and turned towards me. I took a step. It froze, a tuft of lettuce poking through its teeth. I moved slowly, without specific intentions. When I reached the edge of the garden, the groundhog, reluctant to abandon the feast, retreated only as far as the tomato vines.

My garden is my patch of countryside in the city. There is little room for the lawn that serves only as a path meandering around tall perennials, past flowering shrubs, and through the arbour. It leads me to the vegetable garden, where a wall of coriander springs up from seed fallen the year before. Potato vines, also self-seeded, sprawl across the earth and compete for space with the strawberry plants. Purplish-green perilla, with its toothed leaves and pungent scent, fills in every space left available between other herbs.

Wild things abound. Squirrels steal tomatoes, take one bite and abandon the fruit on high fence-posts. Stepping stones set in the grass lead into dazzling sunlight and a dance of Monarch butterflies. When following the grass path to the compost bin after dusk, I tread carefully, wary of a low black shape with a white stripe down its middle; the skunk that waddles its way across the yard every night. Raccoons skulk through the patch of white phlox that glow in the moonlight, and stand on their hind legs to drink from the birdbath.

The night garden is an enchanted place. Lush growth quickly blocks the path that I battle to keep clear. The trumpet blossoms of the datura release their heavy perfume only after nightfall. Clematis vine tendrils reach out into the air, grasping at anyone who walks through the arbour. In the brightness of full-moon nights, spiderwebs glisten with dew.

A scrabbling sound disturbed my reverie, and I looked up in time to see the groundhog disappear under the shed. I sipped the last drop of coffee and picked up the clippers to trim back some of the burgeoning growth. The sun had already reached the vase-like flowers of the Himalayan impatiens that harbour bumblebees at night. As it warmed the flowers, the drowsy humming bees backed out and hovered for a moment before darting off in search of pollen.

I tackled the raspberry patch, trimming out the old canes that no longer produced fruit. As I fought the tangle of prickly growth, my shirt grew damp from the rivulets of moisture running down my back. Seeking respite from the sweltering heat, I took a break from the garden work and strolled to the lake, where the curve of the bay meets my street on the perpendicular. Though it was still early, kayaks dotted the water, along with a few kitesurfers trying to read the wind. Ducks bobbed on the waves. I gazed at the sparkling water, but my mind wandered back to my garden. The exuberance in the vegetable patch needed taming, and the tall grass awaited the lawnmower. Yet, I love its wildness, and I wanted to leave it just the way it was.

© Chris Galvin

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