Backyard, south city, 8:30 a.m.

Jun 30, 2004 at 4:00 am
We missed the raspberries in the backyard, dang it to heck. They were right there, a 30-second walk from where we sleep, all plump and sour-sweet. And yet we were so wrapped in the cellophane of distraction that they came, they exploded, they shriveled on the vine without our tongues touching even one of them. Oh, cruel fate! We were tossing four-dollar pints of Whole Foods strawberries into our smoothies. Maybe it's time to wake up?

"Yeah. They've been coming for the past three weeks," says Lucy Tyksinski, friend and neighbor, who tasted from the wellspring of red. She's transformed this backyard into a shrine to the natural world and one of the most beautiful little plots in the city. She deserves them all.

Sitting outside on a nippy summer morning, sipping a cappuccino, ranks up there with some of the sweetest moments this little life has to offer, and if that sounds like a commercial for instant coffee, well, so be it. Sometimes tender moments are pure cliché, but that doesn't make them any less magical. Coffee in the morning: Sometimes it's enough to make your heart sing, especially on a 55-degree (!) summer morning. The birds are screaming louder than normal and are as baffled by the breeze as we are. They scream: "Whattheheck!? Whattheheck!?" as they jump from pole to birdbath to sugar maple.

Recent news that St. Louis has this year achieved the dubious honor of being the leading population-loser of all big cities is, on the surface, a bummer. We want everyone to love St. Louis the way we love St. Louis. But one simple way to combat the news is to adjust our thinking. Big city? Nope, not for half a century.

The country remains in our city and sits like a vulture on a picket fence, waiting for each building's eventual abandonment. When the people leave, up climb the tangled vines, until a Victorian shell has been swallowed whole by greenery, and nature reclaims what man has merely borrowed.

In the morning you wake up and forsake the regular French press-created Italian roast and break out the stove-top espresso and cappuccino maker. It's not fancy, but you don't have to plug it in, which is comforting. Just fill it up with water, pack the filter with finely ground roast, seal it up and set the burner on medium. In five minutes, thick black espresso starts dripping out of the spigot, and soon, a cup full of black beauty. Seal the maker for a few minutes and steam builds up. Place a pitcher full of milk under the steamer, open the valve and heat screams into the milk and turns it warm and fuzzy. Pour into coffee and presto -- cappuccino.

It is good to know how to make cappuccino this way, good to know how to garden. Because if our crazy president and his venal administration succeed in antagonizing the world enough for some angry nation to lob a mass-destructive device into the heartland, well, we'll still be making cappuccino by the campfire. We'll still be enjoying the pears, peaches, blackberries, gooseberries, the currants and tomatoes.