Jara and the Gardens - by Johanna Hoffman
The lift clicked to WD, and Jara stepped onto the water dock. Lights from the concrete ceiling glinted off the buoy number sings. She walked the dock to buoy #15 and her rusting green canoe. Other people were into using hoverboats and personal drones to get around, but not her. She liked to take her time moving through the city, through any landscape really. It gave her more chances to look around. Jara sat at the stern and pushed off the dock, plunging her paddle into the water. A motor was there for when her arms got tired, but she ignored it for now. The strain on her arms felt good. She’d been inside all day. Moving her body had been the whole point of coming out. As the shade of the water dock gave way to midday sun, her upper lip grew slick with sweat. The city still had its dry parts. Down here though, in the old financial district, it was all canals and waterways. Many of the buildings were over two hundred years old. When sea levels spiked in the 2050s, lots of developers had just filled in the first few floors with concrete, creating thicker foundations and floodable structures. With the heavy historic preservation restrictions on the area, it was easier and cheaper than building the new floating buildings constructed in other parts of town. Jara steered towards the edges of the waterway where the mangroves grew. They were planted decades ago, part of a city-coordinated effort to improve air quality and reinforce the coastline. The groves farther offshore were designed as storm surge buffers, but doubled as fisheries and tree farms too. Over time, they’d even become go-to tourist spots. You could spend the day fishing or swimming or lounging at the floating bars. Some people liked to scuba dive the reefs growing off the underwater power lines that funneled electricity from the tidal turbines off the bay’s edge. Back in the more developed parts of the city, mangroves were for keeping temperatures cooler, creating habitats for fish and insects, and keeping air quality levels controlled. She veered right down a side canal. It was narrow, and the wake from her canoe slapped against the edges of the buildings. Racks of green lines ringed the brick facades, reminding Jara that it was low tide. A good time to harvest saltweed. She should head over to the Wetland Gardens and get some greens for dinner. The glasswort and saltwater potatoes were exploding this time of year. And she hadn’t been to the Gardens in a long time. Not since her dad died, anyways. The Gardens had always been their place, ever since he took her there for the first time when she was six. Jara still remembered the day. The Wetland Gardens had community 52 workdays twice a month, and everyone who was a member had to show. Jara had been asking more and more questions about where their dinner greens were coming from – did the food delivery drones give birth to lettuce babies on their flights over? Or did they stop off first at Grandad and Nana’s window-sill garden beds? When the questions persisted after a month, her dad decided she was ready for a workday. That was thirty years ago. Seas were lower then, and the Wetland Gardens extended farther into the bay. Rows of saltgrass and seaweed shifted into lettuces and cucumbers and beets farther inland. “This all used to be streets and warehouses and commercial buildings, Jara,” her dad told her after they moored their inflatable at the lower level entrance and pushed through the garden gates. “But when I was a teen, the city decided to invest in greener edges.” Wetland areas and floodable open spaces could serve multiple purposes, he explained. They could buffer against inundation and act as community gardens at the same time. They could be fish nurseries, like the Wetland Gardens were, or playfields and pleasure parks. The mangrove forests north and west of the city were green edges. The barrier islands where they went for beach days and sunsets were too. They were alternatives to hard sea walls, he said, alternatives that gave the city benefits beyond protection. As he signed them in at the member stand and got tools from the shed – shovel for him, hand trowel for her – he pointed out remnants of the old urban grid. The rebar sculpture behind the check-in stand was made from an old fishing pier. The circular culvert top beneath her right foot was where the old sewer systems used to run underground. Her father had been an architect and loved to trace the details of how the city had changed over time. His rambling mostly bored her, but she stayed next to him as he prattled on that day, bent over a bed of tomatoes and pulling weeds from the ground. Jara tried to help, but the sun was shot and made her so tired that she eventually fell asleep on the ground by his feet. Smiling at the memory. Jara set her paddle on her knees and dipped her hand over the side of the canoe. The water was cool against the afternoon heat. She twirled her palm along the surface, letting the liquid swirl around the base of her fingers, wondering what other places that water had been and the kinds of people it had touched along the way.