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How toy dinosaurs in my garden got me through the pandemic

An Eagle Rock gardener creates a shrine to pandemic times

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How toy dinosaurs in my garden got me through the pandemic

Eagle Rock -- The dinosaurs are going on permanent display in my front garden. 

Let me explain.

A few weeks after the pandemic locked us all down last year, I created a toy dinosaur diorama in my Eagle Rock front yard garden. I was bored and itchy and freaked out. I needed to do something creative with my hands, but I’m no artist. I can’t sew. I don’t like baking bread. I’m a gardener.

I had read how exhausted families with little ones were out walking more in their neighborhoods to escape the boredom of isolation life. Even though my “Little One” is 21-years-old and away at college, I remember those days of “What Can We Do Today to Tire Her Out So Everyone Can Get A Good Night’s Sleep?”

So I envisioned a destination: a miniature hands-on Jurassic Park.  Rummaging around my daughter’s empty bedroom, I found her toy dinosaurs, collected at that age when practically every kid develops that fanatical fascination. I also scoured through storage boxes, junk drawers and hall closets for oddball items to complement this kid-friendly/folk art/play project that’s currently spread across a three-foot tall retaining wall next to the sidewalk in our quiet cul-de-sac.

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Dino diorama in my front yard

Over the months, I’ve watched how this play garden has been the perfect height for kid visitors who bring dinosaurs to life with just their hands; but I’ve also witnessed walkers and joggers doing double-takes at the monkeys, poodles, turtles and other critters that peek out among the orange poppies and multicolored snapdragons.

Over the months, as I re-stage the diorama play in the mornings, I’ve flashed back to my daughter’s childhood. Making dinosaurs swim in the bathtub; conversing with unicorns, demanding we re-read favorite books again and again, waiting for her to splash in every puddle on a rainy day walk. All those wonderful memories I had put up in a dusty shelf years ago. It was heartwarming to let them wash over me again like new.

Over the months, I’ve cried honest-to-goodness tears observing from a window in our nearby converted garage how this silly little display of bric-a-brac continues to surprise and delight strangers young and old.

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Will toy dinos stay once the pandemic goes away?

Today, I woke up and realized that we’re going to be in a Post Pandemic World soon and I wondered if the dinosaurs are, well, going the way of the dinosaurs.

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Soon, kids will be back at school. Parents back at their offices. Joggers back to the gym.

Should I give up the play garden and return the land back to the flowers and bushes, bees and birds? Should I bring down the cardboard box and collect all that I have put on display for the last 12 months?

Hell, no.

I plan to continue to refresh the play action – with or without an audience. Because I need this garden to be here.

Sure, I like it as reminder for creative play – simply rearranging dinosaurs, pandas and driftwood somehow loosens a brain logjam that allows me to think clearer. And yes, there always will be walkers and young kids. And I’m not one to disappoint a child – or an adult – who needs to know that magic can indeed still be found in the world.

But this play garden is more than that.

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A shrine to pandemic times

Today, about one year after creating this garden, I now envision this shrine as an on-going acknowledgment of the pandemic’s existence. Some of us will crawl out of our Covid Covers with bad hair and troubled hearts, others will be physically and psychologically bruised and battered, and yes, some of us will or have already lost loved ones, our identities and our motivations. There is no justice in the scales of winning and losing.

My husband wondered out-loud if Earthlings today, with our short attention spans, will soon forget living through this pandemic and turn our collective attention to other grievances and distractions. I wonder how many of us will try to downplay or romanticize the pandemic, even though many of us learned to embrace the preciousness of life because of it.

So often history is placed high on a shelf, rolled up in a poster sleeve or stashed away in cardboard boxes like plastic toy dinosaurs. I want this play garden to be my ongoing reminder, even if it’s symbolized by prehistoric creatures that have long since walked the planet. We don’t forget dinosaurs – kids make darn sure of that. We can’t – and shouldn’t—forget the Covid-19 Pandemic and how it permanently has rearranged our physical, emotional and spiritual landscapes – and almost made dinosaurs out of all of us.

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