Recovering Beauty

Following the July 21-25 General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)  held in Ft. Worth, TX, we took a few days vacation.  We relaxed in San Antonio, visiting the beautiful San Antonio Botanical Garden, the Riverwalk, and a marvelous Southwest Arts School located in the beautifully restored buildings of an old Roman Catholic School.  We spent an afternoon visiting the shops of a variety of local artists.  When we left San Antonio, and headed northeast toward Louisiana, we stopped at another Botanical Garden … the one in Beaumont, TX.  When we entered the parking lot, we suspected that we were the only visitors.  The other two vehicles likely belonged to staff or to someone we saw working on a building.  Admission to the Garden is free, so we found a path and began walking.  Recent rains had left some of the paths flooded, but we found our way.  The day was hot and muggy, the ground was wet and the little green lizards seemed to skitter and jump everywhere along the paths and through the plants.  We passed flower beds that desperately needed weeding,  paths obstructed with overgrowth, and then further into the garden we came upon piles of weeds on some of the paths indicating that someone was, indeed, pulling weeds.  Horsetail, invasive and growing out of its intended areas was being piled on the walk.  Then two voices greeted us.  A man and a woman were sitting on a bench resting.  Muddy and sweaty from gardening on this hot, humid day, they smiled and welcomed us.  I said, “It looks like you’re working hard” and she laughed and said, “You’re welcome to help!”  We talked with them for quite while, and learned that these were the only two employees of the Botanical Garden.  Other work depends on volunteers.  They are still trying to clean-up and rebuild parts of the garden following the destruction of Hurricane Rita.  The garden lost some 94 trees. (And the larger Tyrell Park, in which the Garden is found, lost nearly 3000.) The concrete walkways are still broken.  We came upon a downed tree in the Japanese Garden that they have not yet been able to remove.  Bridge railings are broken.  We came to realize that it was once a small, but beautiful botanical garden.  As its devoted keepers described,  many of those who would usually volunteer are still repairing and rebuilding their own lives and gardens.  Unlike our substantially endowed Missouri Botanical Garden, their garden depends on contributions and volunteers.  Beaumont, Texas is not a poor city, though we drove around the downtown area and the residential area surrounding it showed signs of both poverty and damage. (Sometimes it is difficult to differentiate between damage and neglect.) There appear to be many social services in Beaumont.  No doubt, they have been stretched as in all cities affected by the hurricanes.   I am reminded that when the necessities of life are threatened, that which provides beauty and soul nurture is slower to recover.  I will not soon forget those two people pushing on, doing what they can day by day to uncover the beauty of the garden, so that the people of their city can be nurtured by it again … now and in the years to come.