Eagle Rock — The seeds were sown months ago and now a trio of California sunflowers — one standing almost six feet tall – with numerous fat green buds are ready to burst into yellow and black flowers at apexes and corner nodes. While a growing healthy plant is remarkable in itself, consider that these two-inch thick-stemmed beauties are growing out of a thin crack where the curbed concrete meets the asphalt right outside our Eagle Rock house.
I am mesmerized by plants that grow from cracks in the sidewalk or from tiny spaces in rock walls, invisible openings in Gunite, green things that bust through brick, concrete and tile.
This early morning, I’m in the shadow of the sunflowers as I squat in my shorts and t-shirt to pull out weeds from the front sidewalk cracks – odd grasses, errant garlic chives, prickly fuzzy dandelion-like plants.
Weeds are perfectly at home in cracks. Despite the trouble and messiness of weeds, I appreciate their tenacity and clever adaptations as they sneak into crawl spaces meant for microbes and emerge like a dancing Medusa. Cut them down, they will return stronger and with more stalks than before. My father-in-law was known for breaking out a blow torch to fry sidewalk weeds to a crisp. (A less dangerous method would be hot water mixed with vinegar; but l must agree wielding fire has a certain Get It Done Now With Danger charm.)
I think about how each weed that I’m wrestling out of this concrete crack came from a seed that fell in the right place at the right time. Still on my haunches, I then turn my attention to the stunning sunflower, a plant not known for its evolutionary weed-like prowess, but one that found victory where the curb meets the slurry seal.
Luck and a strong tap root convinced this sunflower that being surrounded exclusively by dirt is not mandatory for existence. This plant blooms, flourishes and towers over its nearby soil-laden brethren that are growing in our front garden hill. Which plants looks happier? The ones in soil or the ones in concrete?
The late rapper Tupac Shakur immortalizes this phenomenon in his poem, The Rose That Grew From Concrete relating that image to how people who had difficult upbringings can find self-stamina, courage and independence, properties that set them apart from those who have been ‘properly’ nurtured.
Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else ever cared.
It’s a beautiful powerful image, but I would argue dear poet that such a plant does not prove “nature’s law is wrong.” These plants (and hardy people?) prove that nature’s law is more complex and mysterious than we mere mortals can understand. Tiny plants can actually break rock by the simple power of being themselves, taking up water in their roots and expanding their girth to detonate rock around them like exploding dynamite. Maybe we should add a fourth power to the “Rock Paper Scissors” game. Plants conquer all.
I stand up from my weed pulling and admire my now weed-free sidewalk. Then it hits me. While gushing about the strength of plants, I now realize I should pay a little attention to the cracks of the world, these ‘unmovable’ human-made creations that have become undone. I think about the earthquake that opened up a crevice in the backyard wall, a tree root that lifts up the sidewalk down the street, and how sunshine, rain and time are dislodging everything.
Think about it. Here in the land of concrete, mini-malls and freeways, we are surrounded by gazillions of little holes. Cracks everywhere, as we walk our neighborhoods, navigate our streets, park by the post office, sit in classrooms, fall asleep on the bus bench. Weed our sidewalks.
Leonard Cohen pays homage to cracks in Lyrics:
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
The fragility of our built environment is in constant disrepair – which makes me love cracks (and the plants that grow from them) even more.
I stand and stretch my arms upward to release tension in my neck and back. One day, I’ll be relegated to a simple crack in the ground. Until then, I gather my tools and bucket of weeds and head up the driveway.
The Eagle Rock street sunflowers join two Spanish lavender plants that three years ago took up residence in cracks alongside our driveway. While other such fragrant lavender bushes grow just steps away in a proper soil garden, the driveway lavenders always catch my attention first. These rebels are out of place, but at the same time, they are in place.
And that is why they are so very, very perfect.
Sunday Story showcases first-person essays as well as fiction by residents. We welcome submissions, but stories must be set in one of the neighborhoods we cover.