Japanese Friendship Gardens

January 21, 2010
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The rustled rhythm of raking crisp leaves resounded the silent chilled morning. A subtle breeze passed through the late autumn season along with bell chimes. The sounds of nature were wasted on me as I begrudgedly raked the leaves with my mp3 player blasting my eardrums off. As I bent forward to rake up leaves, the cold mist kissed my hair, sending a shiver down my spine. The leaves began to desiderate from the nearly bare trees and I felt a light weight on the back of my head.
“Hey doofus, now no one can question whether you’ve been slacking off or not,” my friend grinned at me as she pointed at the fallen leaves in my hair. I brushed the leaves out of my hair, disgusted with the idea of a rotten leaf on me.
“Oh, my back, it hurts. I hate this. This grass is so mossy and lumpy! How do they expect us to rake on this patchy grass?” she started complaining.
“Ugh,” my other friend grumbled as she stumbled from the other side of the tea house, “I’m cold and it’s too early for this!”
My friends’ complaining echoed my thoughts. This was not my idea of a perfect Saturday morning. I grimaced at how I was actually spending my Saturday morning. My friends and I were required to do community service and decided to volunteer at the Japanese Friendship Gardens. The Japanese Friendship Gardens was originally funded by the city, but due to the economic crisis, budgets have been cut back, including the Gardens. It runs solely on the hard efforts and determination of the volunteers. Not that I really cared. I only wanted to have my volunteer hours be over with and done. I had to wake up early just do manual labor. I imagined myself back home, snuggled in the warmth of my bed as I stared at the pile of leaves.

A volunteer came to check up on us; he was an elderly man.
“How’s it going?” he asked sincerely.
“It’s tough,” I replied tiredly.
He chuckled, “Yes, this mossy grass around the teahouse is an evil nemesis. I remember when I first raked here. It is important to start cleaning around the tea house.”
I stopped working to respectively turn my attention to him.
“The tea house is important to the Japanese gardens.” he continued, “Also, it is important to work on the gardens manually. The Japanese felt it was a way to connect and become close with nature.”
“This garden lives and flourishes by the care of our hands,” he declared as he gestured towards the rest of the garden. He had that faraway look in his eyes that reflected a personal achievement of a lifetime.
He began to walk away and joked, “Work hard. No leaf blower is going to help you.”
At the time, his words had no effect on me. I began to sweep the pathway that led to the tea house. I continued to work, despite, the opening hour as few visitors came in. An old woman in a wheelchair along with two of her elderly friends took the path leading to the tea house. She smiled gently at me as she passed me. She took her time enjoying the beautiful view. I started to ponder about the old man’s wise words.
I took my ear buds out to not just hear, but listen properly. I stood still, eyes closed, taking in my surroundings. I slowly began to notice how alive the garden was. The rushing waterfall in the distance and the murmuring creek nearby coincided with the mixture of a rich earthly smell and moisture scent. A ray of light shyly touched the pathway in front of me. I knew what to do. I set out to finish sweeping the pathway. Throughout the morning, the sun rose higher in the sky, the warmth of it blanketed my back. Sweat beads perspired on my forehead. The broom became heavier and my arms ached, but I endured.
“Finally finished!” I announced, beaming with pride of my accomplishment.
A couple walked, hand in hand, along my finished swept path. I saw the awe sparklingly in their eyes at the breathtaking scenery. I wanted to come back again next Saturday and experience the thrill and accomplishment again. I heard my friends calling my name and took one last glance back, before running off to them.

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