A stand of bamboo stalks stood strong in the corner by the wooden gate. Grandma Pat’s house was in the middle of Tucson, between Pima and Grant. You could often hear sirens and dogs barking from the neighbors’ yards. But right outside, past her back porch, was this stand of bamboo, as tall as the out of place conifer tree, surrounded by dirt and patches of grass.
I would open the sliding glass door, walk past the white iron chairs with rough blue cushions to the sturdy, tan stalks. Crouching down, I’d make my way to the center of this bamboo jungle where there was a perfect sit spot to retreat. I would look up to see an umbrella of bamboo shading me from the bright sun. Sometimes, my sister, brother or cousins would join, but I was often alone during these adventures. The city sounds seemed to disappear as my attention was stolen by this sense of place and wonderment.
Every so often, a desert tortoise would come out of its underground burrow to join me in this secret spot. I never knew where it came from or how it got there, and neither did my grandma. Its random appearance was like a reminder that nature is everywhere and there are living, breathing things that are greater than we are. The natural world can surprise us when we are vulnerable, secretive and at the same time, being adventurous.
The bamboo shelter, the mysterious desert tortoise and the sense of safety in my grandma’s backyard allowed me to explore freely. It allowed me to find my own sense of place, sense of belonging and sense of enjoyment in the natural world, even if I was still in the middle of Tucson, Arizona.