The poppy plants are blooming in the alley — three of them.
Most years, the alley is boldly orange, with lacy plants reaching from the cracks in the pavement into the roadway, destined to be smashed by folks who drive fast and take shortcuts.
The poppy plant is a fearless survivor and will grow deep roots into the smallest crack in the pavement. The itty-bitty amount of soil in those cracks is rich, made from leaves that decayed after being blown toward a wooden fence.
The plants are almost my hidden secret. People who drive through alleys are usually driving fast, and sometimes trying to avoid the police.
When the plants are in full bloom, they seem oddly out of place, which I also enjoy, like roses growing from a garbage can.
As with any garden bed, weeds happen. In late winter, I spend some time yanking out the other plants that find a way to grow in a small crack in the urban landscape.
A few weeks ago, I noticed that the plants were gone.
My first guess was that Mark Carlson had stopped by to do a “good deed.”
When he’s in the neighborhood, he’ll stop by to say hello. If I’m not there, he sometimes does something nice. Sometimes I’m so busy, I don’t notice one of his good deeds until weeks later.
He weed-wacked my tall grass, for example, and I texted him days and days later with words of gratitude.
Another day, he chopped down a most hateful privet. The privet had grown so large, I had tried to convince the PG&E tree crew that the plant was interfering with the power lines. The workers gave my request very little thought before moving along to something more important.
When I saw the blank space where the privet had dominated, I didn’t notice at first. It’s sort of like when someone gets a giant mole removed from their face. You know something is different, but in the absence of that big thing, you can’t quite figure out what has changed.
Now Mark does privet maintenance. Serious nuisances, like privet, don’t die easily. Mark works in landscaping and carries seriously potent privet spray in his bag of tricks. More than once, he has stopped to torture the privet sprouts trying to grow from the giant privet trunk.
When the poppies showed up missing, I thought Mark must have meant to do another good deed. My first thought was to call up and complain. Yet, that would have been completely unfair. When someone does something incredibly nice, you need to thank him, even if it’s completely opposite from what you would have hoped.
Many a marriage has likely survived by following that simple thought process.
I still complained, but I chose to complain to my neighbor.
Del has a work shed in the lot next door, and he is about the coolest guy you could ever imagine.
He has a vintage truck and decorates his work shed with wrought-iron brick-a-brack. He wears a leather cowboy hat and has straight, shiny, long hair. He looks like he should be in a magazine about guys who do cool things in sheds.
Del listened to my rant, and after what might have been a deep breath, he admitted he had decimated my poppies.
It happened fast, he explained, as if the speed of their demise would comfort me. He saw some weeds and picked up a shovel.
“Once I got started, I just didn’t stop,” he said sheepishly.
I was impressed that in 20 minutes, he had cleared everything growing from his cyclone fence to the mock orange hedge 40 feet down the way.
I had to forgive him as well. Maybe next time I need a privet removed, I’ll ask him if he has some spare time.
The good news is that a few of the poppies survived. Did I mention that they are freakishly hardy? Three plants is enough to make me smile when I take a stroll around the neighborhood. I’ll make sure I pop some poppy seeds on Del’s side of the fence next fall.