Carol and I recently completed a mind-body wellness class offered (for free!) by our health care provider. One of the things that our instructor said was that a good way to reduce stress is to spend time “in nature.” Further reading in the text book for the class revealed that our brains becomes fatigued by doing all the things most of us have to do in our jobs: staring at computer screens, meeting deadlines, sitting in meetings, etc. The natural world engages different parts of our brains, allowing the fatigued parts to rest. — I may not have this exactly right, but I think I have the gist of it.
When I learned this, I thought to myself: and where are we supposed to find the natural world in downtown San Mateo? This is not Tokyo where, according to my Aunt Martha, who lived there for two years, the residents cultivate little pockets of natural beauty throughout the city. Here in San Mateo, we could walk over to Central Park where the Japanese American community maintains a Japanese garden; but that garden is only unlocked for a few hours a day. Like many densely populated areas in the United States, downtown San Mateo has little to offer in the way of natural beauty; it combines urban density with dreary suburban sprawl; and even where there is some natural beauty, someone will have dropped trash there: fast food bags at the base of a tree, malt liquor cans thrown in among flowers, women’s underwear draped in the branches of a tree overhanging San Mateo Creek (I’m not making that up).
At some point during our wellness class, though, I realized that we have created a little oasis of natural beauty on our little balcony. We have nothing to compare with Japanese bonsai, but over the years we have accumulated quite a few plants. At the moment several of them are in bloom: the purple flowers of the potted lavender; the orange and gold of the nasturtiums; the vivid pink flowers of the succulent Carol can’t remember the name of. I was staring out the window at these flowers this morning. Carol walked into the kitchen and asked, “What are you looking at?”
“Nothing,” I said. “Nothing at all.”