Living in a tower over 400 feet above the city, our view is of the tops of roofs, the canopy of trees, and even the flights of birds below us. It’s a beautiful view and our favourite apartment we’ve ever lived in. But I do sometimes miss an apartment I lived in closer to the ground on the other side of the city.
Almost 10 years ago, after living for 5 years in the nearly identical tower just next door I caught a bug. I wanted to live closer to the ground in a neighbourhood closer to the centre of the city. And so I lobbied hard to move. And move we did, first to a little coach house on the edge of a park. Then, when our landlord sold the house we moved to a tiny (but very affordable) apartment on top of the subway line. Every morning we had a 5:00 AM alarm clock: Our floor would vibrate and we’d hear a sound a the subways started heading out to the end of the line. That one we left for a number of reasons but one of the biggest was that there was little sound insulation in the house and the neighbours had no sense of when it was appropriate to be quiet. A 3:00 AM party was fine. So we looked again and found another apartment.
This week I learned a new phrase: “Dirty Mansion” – apparently it refers to a building that was once a big luxurious house but has since been turned in to individual apartments. This one was a beauty: a 5 minute walk to the subway, bike parking right outside, and everything we needed nearby. Inside there were two bedrooms, a small living room and a verandah and a nice big kitchen. We accepted it immediately and moved in a few weeks later on a cold day in March.
By June, I found another thing to love about it. The property had a renovated garage on it where the landlord’s son lived. There was a set of stairs to get to the wide, flat roof of the garage. I had been wanting a garden for years and though I never had any real experience I finally just dove in, finding containers where I could, and then making trips to the garden supply store on my bike, strapping bags of garden soil to the rack one day, flats of plants the next.
As the summer went on I would add a new container every now and again. When the basil bolted when it got too hot, I replaced it with other plants. The tomatoes grew along with the Thai chillies and kale. It was wonderful to just be able to walk outdoors and pick whatever I liked.
Another benefit revealed itself soon after as a project I was on at work got progressively more stressful and my commute to that client stretched out to two or more hours each way by bus. I would arrive home grumpy and exhausted. One day, instead of going inside right away, I put my bag down and grabbed the long hose I would use to water the garden and went up on the roof and started watering. I picked the suckers off of the tomato plants, and if there was anything to harvest, I would pick it. By the time my work in the garden was done, the stress of the day had been forgotten. I was ready to go inside and see my family.
For most of that summer, working in the garden and cooking with what came from it was my daily joy. Unfortunately, though, after some time some leaks were noted in the roof and it had to be re-sealed. I moved all of the plants on to the stairs and they sealed the roof. The tar they used to do it was very sticky and never quite hardened even after a year. Stepping on it would leave tar on your shoes and tracks in the roof. And so, the summer of the garden was over.
A couple of years later our time ended at that house. We tried one more place in one more part of town before realizing that we loved the first neighbourhood in Toronto we ever lived in and moved back in. We are high up and have no balcony so this summer won’t be a “summer of the garden”.
But if you look out of our window this morning, you can see just a little ways away, a large allotment garden waits for me to get my hands dirty.
Thanks to June for her Squares Challenge.