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  • I’ve lived in Philadelphia for almost four years. I live in University City on the edge of West Philadelphia, but I have never ventured into the neighborhood to my west. I suppose, along the way, despite a conscious attempt to battle the commonly expressed refrain that there is nothing good to be seen beyond 42nd street, I began to believe just that.

    I heard about a place called Bartram’s Garden. It is the oldest surviving botanical garden in North America. Apparently, it is beautiful, but it is located at 54th and Lindbergh, way past 42nd street. Could a delightful garden filled with untamed plants, flowers, and eighteenth century styled brick buildings exist in the middle of a city? More importantly, could it exist in part of the city where there is nothing worth seeing?

    It does. At 54th and Lindbergh, next door to a housing project, in the middle of West Philadelphia, are acres of dirt and pebbled paths lined with bushes that are perhaps, in actuality, wild weeds. Down a long driveway off Lindbergh Boulevard, there are benches shaded by trees blooming with flowers and a seemingly endless garden with wheat grass and luscious green grass galore.

    Nooks and crannies scattered throughout the garden serve as places for further seclusion within the scarcely populated garden. A canopy covered with long leaves covers each nook.

    Further within the garden, winding, seemingly endless paths lead me through untrimmed plants that must be brushed aside to navigate the path. As I move the plants from around my face, the distinct smell of whichever plant I have brushed aside lingers.

    Squirrels traverse the terrain. Pomegranate colored berries fall from shrubs just beginning to loose their lives. Sunlight glistens through the foliage that keeps the sky slightly from out of view. Occasionally, barely audible bits of others’ conversations break through the sound of the squirrels chasing one another.

    I hear a distant train, a gentle reminder that I am in a city. Train tracks line one edge of the garden. I noticed them when I first entered the property. I have a reflex to run to the tracks to take a picture of the passing train. My impulses are halted, as a squirrel suddenly jumps from one tree branch to another, parting the brush, revealing electrical wires just beyond the reach of the tallest tree.

    I follow the wires in the sky. I am led to another edge of the garden. Groups of people are standing near a wooden fence, taking pictures of the Philadelphia skyline. On the edge of this garden within the city, is the city. It really is a great view. I reach in my bag, pull out my camera, and join the others in taking a picture.
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