WAITING
IN THE GARDEN
(recent snapshot)

It's 8:00 o'clock on a January morning. The high ridge to the east still throws its dark shadow over the one-and-a-half-lane asphalt road leading downslope to Yerba Buena. It's so chilly here that when you exhale sometimes a cloud forms. Every two or three minutes a car, bus or truck -- usually with defective mufflers or no mufflers at all -- cruise down the main road. Across the valley toward the west, the most distant mountain ranges glow in yellow morning sunlight.

Exactly 200 steps downslope from the main highway, the narrow asphalt road branches. The Y's left arm leads to Linda Vista School in the valley below Yerba Buena; the right arm leads to Yerba Buena itself. Below the Y, Yerba Buena's grounds spread out like a child's well organized model village.

View of Yerba Buena from up the road
Yerba Buena as seen from the road above. The large Cross-shaped building at the lower left is the Clinic. Above the Clinic, from left to right, are the Office, the Carpentry Shop, and then beyond the truck there's the Casa Grande largely hidden by the Dormitories, and then at the far right is the Chapel, and living quarters behind it. The Garden in this essay lies beside the little arch in the middle of the road at the far right. The large vegetable garden is out of the picture.

Beside the Clinic a well tended garden about an acre large is planted with many straight rows of cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, a locally favored collard-like leafy plant called aselga, and strawberries. Along the garden's far side runs a long file of young, glossy banana trees. Much in contrast to the ramshackle buildings typical for this area, beyond the garden rise solid, well-planned wooden constructions painted white, now glowing splendidly in the sunlight. Scattered throughout the scene are peach trees, in January completely pink with blossoms. Here is such a pastoral, tranquil picture that when a flock of Great-tailed Grackles flies overhead calling out their outlandish, almost humorous, almost vulgar squeaks and whistles, you just have to laugh.

Another 280 steps down the Y's right arm leads to the fifty-foot-long oval garden, the centerpiece of which is an eight-foot-wide circular pool of water. Three concrete sidewalks converge at the pool in such a way as to form a Christian cross. Concrete benches are placed along the walks. Planted here and there in the grassy areas are geraniums, a kind of hibiscus bush called tulipán -- both with blood-red blossoms -- and knee-high amaryllises with cup-sized, orangish-yellow blossoms. Also here are manioc bushes which, after a season of growth, may be dug up for their two-foot-long, arm-thick tubers, which can be boiled and eaten like potatoes.

Today two people stand next to the pool waiting for sunlight to burn the dew off the concrete benches. They'll be the day's first patients when the hospital opens at 9 o'clock. Twenty-year-old Amín Hernández Urbina from Pueblo Nuevo just up the road has the thumb of his left hand bandaged with white gauze.

"Last Friday in the carpentry shop down below at Linda Vista," he explains, "I was shaving a table top when the blade just slipped... "

Nearby, tightly drawing a heavy, brown shawl around her shoulders, stands Flor de María Agilar Tobilla. She's come by taxi from the town of Jitoto Zaragoza, just south of Pueblo Nuevo. Her legs are heavily bandaged and though she seems to be in pain she simply refuses to sit on the damp concrete benches. Rolling down the bandage on one leg she reveals extensive patches of dark skin caked into hard, shiny scales. In a soft voice she repeats again and again that everything that happens to people is the will of God, and that we humans should just be content that sometimes we may experience such glorious mornings as this.

Standing in the garden and facing west, the hospital lies to the left. The shops, a classroom and an office lie directly below, just beyond the gravel turn-around. To the right lie the Chapel, the student nurses' dormitory, and the "big house," or Casa Grande, now used as the dining hall and residence for some of the workers. In earlier days the Casa Grande served as the Comstock's home.

Now from the Chapel come notes played by someone practicing on the piano. As these transparent tones mingle with yellow sunlight, the morning's first breeze sighs through the tops of big pines. And one cannot but be content that sometimes we humans may experience such glorious mornings as this.

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