Last year our building underwent a massive renovation. Railings and metal netting were replaced by shiny new railings and large glass panels. That is all that separates us from the street far below, a thought that makes me slightly queasy. I miss the metal netting. It somehow seemed more substantial.
I used to plant morning glory seeds and weave them in and out so that their purple blossoms surprised us at our morning coffee on those rare days when breezes blew softly and our terrace seemed like a magical harbor far above the teeming city, offering a soothing entry into the day.
Today, bright blooms flourish on the outside sill of our bedroom window, and geranium plants, cut back before we brought them indoors last fall, have pushed up against the glass panels, sometimes stretching through the spaces between to lift their flowers closer to the sun.
In the far left corner of the terrace we placed our old ficus tree, which we nurtured from a thin twig to its present expansive canopy of branches and leaves. Lightly grazing the ceiling, it, too, winters in the apartment, and every spring, I enjoy seeing the dulled winter leaves reach for the sunlight and dance in the breeze on the terrace, acquiring a rich sheen as summer progresses. This year, I placed a small mandevilla plant beside the ficus against the grey partition that separates our terrace from that of our neighbors. An abundance of conical buds and some luminous pink blooms promised a beautiful summer.
I was not prepared for the aggressive survival tactics of the mandevilla. It released graceful tendrils into the air, swaying, seeming almost to bring a consciousness to the act, braiding its tendrils together into thicker ropes, reaching out to find the branches of the ficus and twisting itself tightly, spiraling along the branches of the ficus toward the light, its large flat leaves intermingling with the delicate leaves of the ficus.
At first, almost amused at its antics, we took pleasure in the fact that the ficus had begun to showcase some blooms not of its own creation. But every morning we observe the vine integrating more and more with its host. The ficus looks happy, nonetheless. Is it eager for this companionship that could bring about its demise? At the first sign of distress we plan to intervene.
Meanwhile, we watch, and wait, and I am reminded of a poem I loved, Beleaguered Cities, by F.L. Lucas, which ends with the lines:
Build, build the ramparts of your giant town;
Yet they shall crumble to the dust before
The battering thistledown.
I tremble before the power of the weak.