“VV really wants to garden,” I mentioned to my neighbor Laura one day in passing, “but we just haven’t found the time to get the soil and get it going.” And it’s too expensive; my husband’s been unemployed all summerI don’t mention that part.

“Too bad our garden boxes are just sitting there full of weeds,” she lamented. Once, she and her husband were avid gardeners, but when his health declined, they gave it up.

I perked up, “What if we take over your boxes?”

Laura kindly agreed.

At 7 p.m., when it’s cooled to a hundred degrees outside, my 5-year-old daughter VV and I slip into her backyard. VV gets right to work. She pulls on hard-to-budge weeds, yanking out the composted cardboard and stubborn weeds, preparing the soil.

Laura keeps us company—holds the baby for me, sprays the beds so they loosen up, and teaches me how to use the rototiller. That thing is like riding a bucking bronco, but I try my best to hang on while I stand in the tall beds, sinking a little in my flip-flops and racing the sun’s last evening light. Under the weeds, we find dark, rich soil.

“We used to even buy the worms for it,” Laura says proudly.

VV runs her little fingers through it. “Oh, yes, that’s good soil,” she agrees.

As we work tonight, Laura consults her Arizona Season’s Guide.

“What shall we plant?” she asks.

“A carrot tree!” VV volunteers.

Laura giggles, “Well, that’s a good idea. I’d love a carrot tree. Except carrots grow in the ground.”

“Ohhhh,” VV says, with the trace of an embarrassed smile.

“Could we do that instead? Plant them under the ground? A bunch of ‘em.”

VV agrees. We pause from our work to search for the blue moon—it’s supposed to happen at 7:09. The cloud coverage is thick. We see nothing. When it grows dark, we call it quits. In a desert summer, you take what outdoor time you can get. Laura hands me the baby. “See you tomorrow,” she says.

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Chin turned upward, VV scans the sky again for the special moon and sighs with disappointment.

“Come on,” I say, signaling her to follow. “It’s alright, nothing we can do about it.” She drags her feet.

Inside the house, I try to cheer her up. “Do you want to enter the State Fair Youth art competition like your big brother? You have that song you wrote a few months back.”

She brightens, “Oh, yes!” Sitting at the piano, her back straight and shoulders squared, she announces, “I’m going to write an even better one right now.”

Her fingers hover over the keys for a moment. Then she lets them come crashing down, pounding out a sporadic melody, like jazz for untrained, enthusiastic beginners. Squirming in my arms, the baby kicks his legs, loving it.

She sings, “Hey, hey little dittle a / the sheep never go out at night to play.“

Switching the baby to my left side, I scribble the lyrics that flow from her little heart. She glances at my paper. “I need to keep going until you get it all down. You need to fill the paper.”

I try to explain that sometimes songs repeat so they look longer than they are, but she doesn’t buy it, singing on and on. When she’s satisfied I’ve written every line, she begins a new lyrical compilation.

“Why don’t the stars come out?/ Only if you are somewhere else / It’s weird to think you could keep them / Why can’t I have just one bright star? / Only if I could reach them / If I could just have one little star tonight.”

I sense her inspiration comes from the clouded-over moon—I smile, thinking how all art is inspired by something.

“Time for bath and bedtime,” I announce after she’s completed her third lyrics.

VV and the baby share the bath. Squatting, she says, “I think I’d like to write a story too for the fair.”

“Oh?” I say, “That’s wonderful!”

“I will call it ‘The Carrot Tree,’” she decides.

I turn on the recorder on my phone, and she speaks into it.

“Once upon a time,” she begins pressing her index finger to her thumb, “there was a family who bought an old house. There was broken glass everywhere and broken branches. Everything was broken,” she waves her hand for emphasis. The baby splashes loudly and my recording catches it.

She goes on to explain how the family fixes it up—they start upstairs, then downstairs, then the front yard, pulling out weeds, “putting in” the soil, planting seeds, and watering them.

“At first, they have only a tiny plant. Then they see watermelon, pumpkins, they see everything they see,” she says.

Then the family moves on to the backyard, and that’s where the carrot tree is planted. It yields a big harvest, but the rabbits and deer keep eating it, so the family must put up a fence.

“And then they invite their friends to come for a birthday party because the garden is the prettiest and everyone wants to play in it. The end.”

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I smile. The baby splashes louder. V pours water over her head, satisfied with her work, washing away the great effort it took, so that she can be newly inspired.

I promise her I will type her words verbatim and enter them into the fair tomorrow morning. Perhaps she will win first prize for her story at the fair. Perhaps I will just pretend she did and buy her a first-prize ribbon anyway. One as round and blue as the moon.

While she washes her hair, I think how Laura and I have been neighbors for over 10 years now, but the seeds of our friendship really sprouted this summer when I discovered she was working on her memoir and invited her to my writer’s group—and she was brave enough to attend.

Now, we are preparing a garden and, just this week, she taught me to thread my sewing machine and follow a semi-complicated (to me) cat pattern.

She doesn’t know it, but I’ve always wanted a neighbor just like her. I watched from my window as other neighbors on our street became close. Porch sitting, recipe sharing, laughter ensuing. I pined for a neighbor like that. For 10 years, I didn’t know that I had her right there all along. Because sometimes, the clouds of life hide the best things from us.

But now we are here, our lives intertwined, and it’s as unique and wonderful as a full harvest from a magic carrot tree. I suppose if I had the confidence of a 5-year-old songwriter I know, I would write a song about what a wonderful world it is.

Instead, I have only these words that burn inside me. I am grateful for garden boxes and neighbors. For songs that must fill the page. And stories of broken things made new.

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Kris Ann Valdez 

Kris Ann Valdez has had personal essays included in Motherly, Motherwell, Her View from Home, The Kindred Voice, Motherhood Mag, and elsewhere. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and three children.

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