Randalls Island Park Alliance

Meet Our Horticulture Crew Member: Kaity Cheng

In Meet The Crew, What's in Bloom on May 22, 2012 at 8:07 pm

By Kaity Cheng

Gardening can be tedious, frustrating, and exhausting. A co-worker might say something that triggers me, and I might feel heat rising in my chest, then realize that this is an opportunity to note my ingrained reactions, to withhold blame and to inquire from within, and to learn to use my voice skillfully. I’m often itchy and wonder if I’m allergic to nature. Some battles seem hopeless; the mugwort will keep coming, the Waterfront Garden will never be entirely free of weeds. I do wonder from time to time, if I’m challenging myself enough, or if these might be the first steps of a career path that is beginning to cut through the dense foliage of my easily discouraged mind.

I discuss the difficulties only to show the many dimensions of my job. I am very grateful to be working here.

At the end of a day of gardening, my body feels tired, well-used, and happy. Tired faces are the norm at any workplace, especially in the morning, and I often show up at Randall’s Island rattled from the monotony of highways and traffic and the fight to stay awake. We are given our assignments for the day; we unlatch the tool shed to collect shovels, rakes, buckets — whatever we need. We begin to make small changes to the landscape, removing weeds, pruning shrubs, dead-heading perennials, raking and cleaning the soil surface, and our morning work is often done in companionable silence.

Nearly every day, I arrive at a moment where I realize the fatigue has subsided. Pain and discomfort are easy to notice, but the disappearance of pain and discomfort tends to get less recognition. When I garden, I notice that fatigue, which I thought could only be cured with a nap, can vanish in an instant. These brief moments of awareness are moments of grace. They sweep in as though from out of nowhere, but I suspect there is something about the repetition of our schedule, the early rising, the camaraderie of our crew, the small kindnesses we offer each other, and the fresh air, that make these moments more readily accessible.

I’m not a scholar, nor am I eager to amass botanical knowledge, but this landscape is becoming familiar, and there is a subtle joy to recognizing flowers and trees. There is much to learn, and I often feel lazy for not following up on things and not studying on my own time. And yet, the island, the work of planting trees, establishing new gardens, connecting with volunteers, all these experiences seep into and enrich me. I’m also learning a lot from our crew, which is diverse across age, ethnicity, personality, and life experience.

I hope I will make gardening a lifelong practice. I never stop learning, and I learn through every sense door. My eyes, ears, nose, skin, heart, mind, all absorb different aspects. Throughout a day of working with my hands in the dirt, the whole day breathes through me – wind, sun, clouds, rain, I am breathed by the day. Just as I snip off the dead parts of plants, uproot the weeds, rake smooth the soil surface, there is something caring for me, the work itself gives back to me more than I can offer with my two clumsy hands. Gardening connects me to who I really am. Through gardening I re-discover how amazing it feels to be healthy, human, to belong on this earth and to be connected to something much bigger than my own concerns.

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