[SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't finished Without a Trace, you may want to avert your eyes.]
As much as Sierra Phantom was proud of his green thumb, his efforts in the dirt were about much more than produce. It was a way to get to know his neighbors, many of whom were senior citizens who rarely left their apartments.
Phantom had nagged the apartment manager for years to let him build garden beds in the middle of the complex’s courtyard. It was the only spot on the entire property that let in enough light to grow anything. When the apartment manager finally gave in, Phantom got to work recruiting his neighbors to join the effort. “It will be a community garden,” he told them. “I’ll watch over the difficult things, like what to plant and where. But we can all take turns watering, weeding, and enjoying the fruits of our labor.”
The garden went on to produce award-winning cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes, plus a bounty of other herbs and vegetables. It also brought together people who would have otherwise just as easily gone about their day and lives without connecting with one another. When I visited Bishop in 2012, seven months after Phantom’s death, I was surprised to see that the garden was lush with summer vegetables—cucumbers, mini tomatoes, green beans, and peppers. Phantom's neighbors had picked up right where he had left off. The garden must have meant just as much to them as it did to the man in Apartment 14.