Descanso Gardens in La Cañada, California. (Photo courtesy of Peter Tran)
La Cañada High School

Unwinding my senses at Descanso Gardens

The bell rings. The sound pierces my ears with its shrill clamor. I close my eyes and bury my head in my arms folded on the desk as hordes of students scrape their chairs back, arise from their seats, slam books shut, and zip up backpacks. I have autism with sound hypersensitivity, so noise hits me like a wind.

As the room empties, I slowly get up and drag my way through the wind-tunnel hallways crowded with chattering students to my mom’s car.

Mom says, “You look like you’ve had a rough day. How about we take a little walk at Descanso Gardens?” I heave a sigh of relief. Descanso Gardens is the perfect place for my senses to unwind.

Our first stop is the Rose Garden. I sit on a wooden bench, feet planted on the stone pavement, and listen. I hear children laughing as they run through the maze of hedges behind me and the light-hearted conversation of the adults watching them. I hear the boisterous Mission fountain in the distance somewhere in front of me just out of eyeshot but not out of earshot.

Before me is a tall, graceful sycamore with its broad leaves and peeling rough brown bark showing patches of smooth white beneath. To my left is a grove of graceful river birches along a stream, with a stone bridge crossing it in the distance, and flowering white and pink crabapple trees flanking its far end on either side. To my right are arbors full of mostly dormant rosebushes with bright splashes of purple iris, yellow ranunculus, and magenta snapdragons mixed between.

I take in the fantasy of colors and fragrances of the rose garden one last time, and follow the sound of honking Canadian geese to our next stop, the Woodlands.

The Woodlands area consists of a pond, where the geese glide in for a landing, surrounded on one side by a grove of shady oaks and on the other by chaparral-covered hills. I plop down into an Adirondack-style low wooden chair with its broad smooth slats against my back, and stretch my long legs out before me.

I look up and see a canopy of small dark green leaves crowning the gnarled, sinuous limbs of the rough-barked oaks around me, leaning like a line of dignified old men, both strong and wizened with age and experience. A fountain in the center of the pond bubbles explosively, as it fights a losing aeration battle with the thriving algae that turn the pond a dull green. The sunlight beams through the filter of leaves.

It casts a spotlight upon a maple in a clearing before me, turning its broad pointed leaves into a luminous shower of bright green. It’s hard to leave the serene understatement of the Woodlands habitat, but I rise as I hear the closing time announcement and circle back to the entrance via the Grand Promenade.

The Grand Promenade just a week ago was crowded with tulip tourists clicking a sea of cell phone cameras. But late this afternoon as the shadows lengthen and the bright sun softens into a gentle glow, the gardens are quiet. I hear the distant sounds of children whining, farther off at the entrance where the vending machines satisfy their pre-dinner appetites, but here sounds only the cooing doves and soft twitter of songbirds as they call to each other before twilight.

The tulips have passed their bloom and the more humble daisies, marigold, and asters have replaced them. But as I walk toward the entrance, I spy through the trees on one side the late bloom of a lustrously bright azalea bush which has grown more the size of a small wall of solid pink. On the other side, at the very end of the promenade, a young, slender Chinese fringe tree reveals its branches full of brilliant snowy white blossoms like a bride emerging only after the colorful tulip flower-girls and other attendants have completed their dances down the aisle. I contemplate her crowning beauty, and leave the gardens for home.

As I step through my front door, I smell the delectable aromas of soy sauce chicken and sweet steamed rice. My little brother is clanging his version of Mozart on the piano. I sink into my favorite comfy, slightly beaten-up blue-green armchair and give thanks quietly. God’s brilliant show of nature at Descanso Gardens has restored my equilibrium. My tightly wound senses have relaxed into a loose jumble of elastic coils. Even my brother’s clanging only lightly bounces them. My mom smiles, and I’m ready for dinner.

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