Gold Leaves, Ginkgo Trees & a Stranger’s Blessing: Day Nine

(Sometimes it’s tough to feel at home in your own city.  Which is why I’ve given myself a challenge:  each day, for forty days, I’m going to find *one* thing I love about this place.  And then I’m going to tell you about it.  If you want to follow my journey, start here.  Today is Day Nine.) 

Sometimes, the best moments are unplanned.

Yesterday, in a sudden burst of spontaneity between running errands, I deviated from my plan for the day.  Driving down 581, I swung the car onto the exit ramp toward downtown, floated over the bridge, past the art museum, and down the main drag, Campbell Avenue.

I parked the car, a funny little expectant smile on my face.

The destination I had in mind was Century Square — a miniature park tucked between two tall buildings.  There’s an alleyway of tall ginkgo trees shivering their spare arms above the brick pavers.  There are leafy arbors that let the light through in pointillist stabs of green.  There are park benches, two burbling fountains, and skaters zooming from one side of the square to the other.


There’s also a series of carved columnar sculptures — each dedicated to one of Roanoke’s sister cities:  Florianopolis, Brazil; St. Lo, France; Opole, Poland; Kisumu, Kenya; Lijiang, China; Pskov, Russia; and Wonju, Korea.

It was a good reminder that, though I sometimes feel a little lonely in this small city, the whole world is just a breath away.


And so I breathed.  I wandered from one end of the park to the other, tilting my iPhone up to photograph the branches of the ginkgos where the vivid yellow light caught and held.  Contrary to my usual tendencies, I took some of the photos in color — which felt like a stretching out toward something good.

After awhile, I got on my knees and photographed the fallen, fan-shaped leaves, trying to get close enough to see their tiny pleats.


And then I got up.

As I moved toward the other end of the park, a voice caught me:

“I just love watching you do that.”

I glanced sideways.  A woman with a sweet smile was sitting on one of the park benches, eating a lunchbag meal.  She wore a nametag from her place of work — “Denise,” it read — and the sun flickered around her where she sat.

“Are you a photographer?” Denise asked.

“No — no, I just like to take pictures.”

And we talked.

We talked about how we love ginkgos.  About how they drop almost all their leaves at once, overnight, leaving the foliage in little golden pools around their feet.

We talked about my blog.  About my desire to love this place.  About *her* love for this place.  And even about our shared love for our dogs — both shih-tzus.

She finished her meal.  Packed up.

Before she left to go back to work, she gave me a blessing.  She used the word “God.”  And while I know people mean different things when they say such things — and sometimes they mean nothing at all — I really did feel blessed.  Divinely so.

I walked back to my car carrying the blessing with me.

I carried it like a secret gift all the rest of the day.




  1. Oh my Niece darling! Lindsey and I were just talking about you a couple of days ago. Your writing is brilliant and I miss you so! Also I am THRILLED to know that the ginko’s have little PLEATS on their leaves …oOh the detailed handiwork of a God who loves us so tenderly and close. I love you dear Ashley!


    1. So good to see you here, Aunt Karen! 🙂 Thank you for your kind words — this project is good for me, but it also makes me happy to see that it’s making *other* people happy, too. 🙂 And the next time you visit my Dad, ask him to show you the ginkgo leaves from the tree in the front yard. The pleats are there! Tell him I sent you. 😉


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