Things I Saw in the Park / by Ryan Koch

 A Nanking Cherry Bush at Castlewood Orchard

A Nanking Cherry Bush at Castlewood Orchard

The rain was more of a mist on a recent Wednesday morning when I found a box on the front porch. A tree had arrived. I grabbed the box, a shovel, an a few gallons of clover seed and drove around the block to Castlewood Park. The North Limestone Community Development Corporation is supporting Seedleaf to care for an orchard of 20 fruit-bearing trees: serviceberries, asian pears, cherries and persimmons. These were selected to be low-maintenece, pest- and drought-tolerant varieties that would not need to be sprayed. Caring for this small orchard is a labor of love. Lots of self interest in involved. I am patiently excited that one day there will be a bit of fruit here in our park.

I dug a hole, set the tree in the hole, covered it up. I poured a bucket of water onto the young tree. Then I started to scatter the clover seed onto the mulch around the trees. The mulch will break down quite a bit this year, and the cover will beckon pollinators towards our flowering trees. As I raked these seeds into the ground I saw something near the edge of the mulched area. I came closer to see that it was a small syringe. No needle, but still somehow jarring. 

I have come across this sort of litter in our park before. Syringes in the park remind me that some of our neighbors struggle with diabetes. Others struggle with intravenous drug use. Both sets of neighbors are facing an epidemic, a profound public health crisis, here in our community. Both groups of neighbors have been failed by our system of health care and food distribution. And what little I know about living with diabetes or with a drug habit is enough to be quite humbling. I know enough to be concerned, deeply grieved, and to feel completely helpless in the face of this storm. 

On the other side of this mulched area were four shrub-type cherry bushes, two of which had the audacity to be leafing out right now. I even saw a few flowers on one of them. We chose a Nanking Cherry because we wanted short visitors (children) to have access to this fruit. We will train the serviceberries to grow as shrubs rather than trees for the same reason. I feel a quiet delight when I picture a visitor discovering these fruits one day, an unplanned snack in the park.

Walking back to the truck I carried a bucket of seeds and a rake in one hand, and a very small plastic syringe in the other. I have a growing understanding of how to care for trees, and what fruit-bearing trees need in order to thrive. I also recognize too that so many of my neighbors struggle with addictions and painful medical treatments, and I am not at all sure how to serve them, how to walk alongside them as a neighbor. 

I set these things down in the back of the truck and I drove home.