Please Cover In Winter

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Written by Carley Gomez

went to the Lurie
Garden for the first time with my dad the April before last. We visited
from Tucson, Arizona, leaving the heat and cacti behind for a cold
front in Chicago. I was trying to decide if Chicago would be my new
home. The truth was that this was already decided. I had been accepted into my first pick graduate school and the city was an after thought.
I was now trying to prove that the city could be the perfect place
for me.

We walked quietly
through the garden’s unique pathways, filling the silence with
intense scrutiny. My dad watched the water and the plants while I
stared at the skyline. I couldn’t look down at the plants in front
of me. My eyes would not move from the alien horizon sharp with

My dad mentioned
how much my mom would love it here. I imagined her visiting next
year for a moment, her standing with a camera forgotten in the grip
of her hand, while she excitedly motions at a bird with a splash of
color on its chest. It was a foreign image and the thought placed a
weight in my stomach. I could feel distance in the skyline and the
water; these things were so different from my hometown. My dad could
feel it too. This place was foreign and it would soon be a part of
me in a way he wouldn’t experience, in a way that Tucson had once
belonged to both of us.

* * *

The next time I
went to the Lurie Garden was five months later. I had moved into an
apartment nearby a couple months before. This had not been an
easy move. My whole life had been in Tucson and I didn’t handle
change very well. I ended up in the Lurie Garden again for the
reason I left home: school. Even though I walked over to the garden
with classmates, I felt separate. There was something about the
thickness of the brush and the height of the grasses that muffled the
sounds of other voices, emphasizing this sense of isolation.

The garden was full
of transitions. There were sharp lines between flower buds and tall
bleached grasses, lines between trees and shrubs, blooms and
decay. I watched the wind flush through the leaves and flowers, but
the skyline was inescapable and still unfamiliar. This place still
wasn’t home. Home was wildness with jagged cliffs for a back drop.
It was tenacious, floral weeds clawing their way through gravel, and
cacti broken but reborn in its sudden and random release. I was
cheating on Tucson, watching these carefully constructed flower beds.

I watched bees and
the shape of individual petals and then a flash of red caught my eye.
Several branches had bent, their leaves dipped in red and curled, their edges charred and brown.
The tangled appearance of the dying leaves drew me in. I reveled in
the inch of chaos I had found. Entranced, I leaned closer but then felt my phone begin to buzz in my pocket. I stepped back
from the plants and read the caller’s name.

My little brother,
Benny, was calling. A vague uneasiness swept through me. I rushed
to the main path, feeling a strange urgency to keep this place
separate from my brother, even across the phone line. I wouldn’t
answer his call until I left the garden.

The image of the
charred leaves stayed with me for a few of days.

* * *

A month later, I
returned to the Lurie Garden with two friends from out of
town. I knew they would want to see Cloud Gate and the garden was
too close to go unnoticed. I braced myself for the alienation that I
had previously expected. But the feeling didn’t come, instead
everything was so entirely different. The only thing I felt
was surprise.

A cold front had
come in and changed the surface of the garden. Petals had dropped
and leaves were paling. The summer thrivers had become brittle
shades of beige. Plants seemed to tangle instead of rise. In the
midst of change, I found a random splash of color. What looked like
an ornamental pomegranate tree stood in the middle of the garden. It
was the only thing that seemed alive and I wondered about its origin.

That evening I searched on my
computer to find this thriving tree. I found the official Lurie
Garden website and looked through the trees and shrubs, but couldn’t find the one I was looking for. Desperate, I began
to search alphabetically. I wanted to learn more about things that grew in the cold, that survived when others began to decay.

As I continued to
scroll the list, the plants’ origins began to jump out at me. Dusky
Cranesbill from Russia, blooms in summer.
Catmint is from Japan and grows about eighteen inches.

The origins began
to taunt me. Country after country popped up. Every place was in
this garden. A deep longing pulled the air from my lungs. Where was
Tucson’s inch? Where was my inch? I still hadn’t found the tree but
I no longer cared, finding my own origin in that garden was more
important. Slowly, reading name after name, my hope waned. I grew
desperate just to see the word “Southwest” on the list and then
suddenly, I found my state mentioned.

There was a plant that was native to my home state,
Indiangrass. Just a grass, nothing flashy, that shoots four
feet into the sky. Its flowers are red and brown and must be protected from
“excessive winter”. I supposed that I might need similar
protection, but at least I knew one thing from Arizona that could
thrive in Chicago.

At A Glance

Lurie Garden
Chicago 60603

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