We never know what legacies we are leaving, what seeds we are sowing.
Two years ago, my grandson, who was six at the time, flew out to San Diego with his mom to visit me. They live on the East Coast and this was his first visit to San Diego. Naturally, I wanted to share with him everything I love about living here and I was determined not to get caught up in the overtly commercial tourist traps. I did make an exception with a trip to LEGOLAND since he was enamored with Legos and I was happy to nurture his engineering aptitude. My daughter bought multi-day passes to Balboa Park and the Zoo, and we enjoyed visits to the Birch Aquarium at Scripps. We took the Coaster up to Encinitas to experience Moonlight Beach at sunset (where I took the photo that is the header for this website).
As the week wound down, we were sitting in my labyrinth garden stacking rocks on a marble table. Graham showed a surprising interest in the rocks as well as proving to be a skilled rock balancer! “Would you like to go for a walk to my favorite place?” I asked. “There’s an amazing Sycamore tree there where I love to rest on a bench that I think was made for giants because it’s so high,” I said with a mysterious air.
Graham’s eyes widened with a mixture of skepticism and curiosity. “Yeah!” he shouted. So we hoped in the car, just the two of us, and headed to the Tecolote Canyon Nature Trail not far from my house. As we walked along the trail, I named the native plants, cautioning him to watch out for rattle snakes, telling tales of coyotes and Redtail hawks.
Less than a half mile into the trail, where it starts to bend north, just when the heat was making a little boy and his nana a little tired, there stood that magnificent California Sycamore. Its strong branches extended almost horizontally, creating a shady shelter over an odd bench that was so far off the ground it could easily be a table. Graham needed a little boost hoisting himself up to it and sat there perched like a prince. We sat there side by side, Nana and grandson, sharing sips of water from my water bottle and enjoying the quiet.
Graham had been going to pre-school and first grade at a Nature Preserve near his home and there didn’t seem to be much new for him in Tecolote Canyon. He knew more about Redtail hawks than I did! But for me, spending this bit of quiet time with him, without the bustle of activities I’d been serving his six-year-old attention span, was precious. I noticed an Optunia cactus behind the tree, toward the water channel from the San Diego River. Bright red prickly pears lined its paddles. Now that was something you would never find in New Hampshire!
We hopped to the ground and I used my canvas satchel as a glove to snatch off a prickly pear. I just happened to have a plastic cutlery knife in my bag and using a stick to hold the well-defended fruit still, I showed Graham how to slice off the ends and across the side, to peel back the skin and scoop out the sweet fruit with our fingers. There we sat on the giant’s bench, licking our sticky seedy harvest from our fingers as if we had triumphantly captured this delicious treat from the wild. We were extraordinary survivalists!
When we returned home, Graham noticed that he had several prickles from the cactus in his arm and I showed him how to use duct tape to remove them. I was worried my daughter would think I was a reckless grandmother to expose her son to cactus needles, but she didn’t seem bothered.
And so, that afternoon in Tecolote Canyon became a pleasant memory for me, but with all of the super-sensory experiences Graham had during his visit, I never thought it would have registered even a blip in his young brain. I was wrong.
The gift that moved me to tears
Last month, a sudden twist resulted in a freaky shattered ankle for me. Recovering at home, my left foot secured in position to my leg in a gruesome contraption called a “fixator”, I was trying to sound as positive as possible on the phone with my daughter. “Graham made something for you to help you feel better,” she said, encouragingly. “You should get it in the mail in a few days.”
When the Priority Mail envelope arrived, I enthusiastically opened it and pulled out the colorful drawing. My grandson’s artwork left me in tears. It wasn’t so much his artistic skill, although as a proud grandmother I think he’s far advanced for an 8-year-old, but the subject of his masterpiece that moved me. There it was, in wonderful detail, everything I remembered about that precious day we spent in Tecolote Canyon two years ago. Arrows pointed out the “big old tree” with its horizontal branches, the “cactis” and “boosh that has fruit on it” and the “boshes fruit”. And off to the right, two people, one big and one small, sitting on a bench with their feet dangling, holding round shapes in their hands. An arrow points to a brown object on the bench beside them, labeled, “knife for cutting open the fruit that cums off cactisis.”
I found one photo of Graham that I took at that tree, it only shows him and a branch. And I don’t think he’s seen that photo. So all of those details came from his memory. Somehow, when choosing something to draw to comfort me while I recuperated, he chose that moment in time. It obviously meant something to him.
Confined to the sofa with my ankle dutifully propped up higher than my heart for the past three weeks, I’ve had lots of time to think. And I keep thinking about how suddenly everything can change. How in a moment all of our priorities are flung around like a wild roll of the dice. Staying alive becomes a conscious effort. Enduring pain. Getting on a commode. Getting a glass of water when no one is around. All these things that were not anywhere on my radar last month, are suddenly paramount.
And after those most basic necessities have been addressed, comes the realization that we have so little control of the future. As fast as it took to shatter all three bones in my ankle, an earthquake could hit, or a phone caller could tell me that someone I love has gone. All the plans for tomorrow, regrets for things not done, hurts harbored, worries about the future… it all doesn’t really matter. We can only live as fully as we can in the moment we are in, dealing with the circumstances we have before us. It took an eight-year-old boy who is growing up so fast, without many opportunities for me to be around him, to teach me this – that we never know which seeds we plant will flourish and which things we do will tip the future world.
We can leave the next generation a legacy of hope
This was on my mind yesterday as I watched clips of student protests, walk-outs and memorials for gun control legislation, throughout the United States. Despite, or perhaps because of, everything my generation has done to mess up their future, we are seeing a spark set to kindling their right and resolve to remake their world. Yesterday it was gun control, but now that they have tasted that empowerment of activism, there will be nothing to stop them from wrenching control away from the greedy grasp of our current leaders, to make change in every aspect of the world they are inheriting from us.
As the elders, the grandparents and teachers, we don’t know what it is we will do or say that will help kindle that flame. The legacies we leave could be planted in something as simple as opening a prickly pear in the shade of an old Sycamore. We must put aside the skepticism and cynicism that seemed appropriate, given the current global situation. These kids have every right to try and we have every responsibility to encourage them.