Gurdon: Vandals destroy a woman's garden but not her spirit

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Local,Meghan Cox Gurdon

It is easier to destroy than to create. This painful fact was brought home to a neighbor of mine this week, when she emerged on a sparkling autumn morning to discover that a vandal had struck in the night.

It had been the work of months for her to construct a sweet little raised vegetable garden on a portion of lawn beside her house. With her own hands, our neighbor had built a wooden frame. Into the frame she had poured soil and fertilizer, and with her fingertips she had poked tiny seeds in rows.

When the first delicate shoots started coming up last spring, she was so thrilled that she couldn't contain herself. You'd drive by and see her waving, and when you rolled down your window she'd shout something like "beets!" or "lettuce!"

The garden represented something more in this case than a source of fresh vegetables or artisanal satisfaction. It was, for this neighbor, a mark of renewal after two years of hard emotional winter. So when she proclaimed "carrots!" she was also celebrating her own recovery from dark days.

Deer apparently enjoy arugula as much as the next suburbanite, of course, so they were always a menace. To thwart them, our neighbor had painstakingly erected metal struts around the plot and swathed the whole structure in chicken wire -- a cumbersome arrangement that impinged on the aesthetics but did its job nicely. The crop flourished. So did the gladness of its farmer -- until this week.

In the fresh light of a regular morning, amid a scene of complete normalcy -- with kids waiting for the school bus and people walking their dogs -- our neighbor emerged to find that someone had trashed the little garden she had so carefully constructed.

Whoever it was had probably just sought to have a little cruel fun ripping and twisting. This person, or persons, had bent the metal struts and trampled the chicken wire until it was wadded up like a Brillo pad. The garden lay crushed and degraded. This was not the act of hungry deer, but the work of human hands.

Vandalism of whatever kind -- graffiti on an overpass, trampled flower beds in a public garden, even litter -- has a subtly corrosive effect on general morale. For the recipient of a specific malicious act, though, the blow feels personal. It does not just do violence to the victim's feeling that her home and neighborhood is a shelter; it makes her trust seem almost foolish.

You can build your nice little suburban garden, lady, the departed vandal seems to sneer, but I just took it away from you with a twist of my arm and few stomps of my boots. I get to do what I want; you get to pick up the pieces.

Our neighbor grieved for most of the next day over her garden's destruction -- a deed that probably took less than five minutes -- but by dusk she had resolved to put the incident behind her. It was she, after all, who had invested the fragile plants with the story of her own regeneration. Garden or no, that kind of growth would, at least, continue.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.

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