long way home
it’s been seven summers. seven summers since i potzed around my rambly little garden, the one i couldn’t wait to tiptoe into every morning at the dawn, the one whose curves and inclines and meandering walks i knew by heart, by the tips of my toes and the nubs of my fingers, poking there under the leaves into rootballs and crannies i couldn’t quite see. but i knew them. oh, yes, i knew.
i could still walk you, eyes closed, through my little garden, my garden that grows in the city.
only it’s not mine anymore.
i left it. achingly. reluctantly. with half my heart planted there, most likely under the gnarled little tree with the branches that wound-about and wept.
was like i was leaving behind a part of me. something i’d dreamed, birthed, tilled, worried over, watered, watched through the seasons. something i’d memorized in that way that your mind absorbs, imprints, every plane and surface, every whorl and whatchamabob, of any something that seeps deep in your soul. like a newborn. or a patch of the earth you happen to love.
but then we up and sold the house that lived with my garden. and i had no choice, really, but to leave it behind. although not altogether, not wholly.
i brought one or two things with me, a woodland forget-me-not i couldn’t forget, its leaves all heart-shaped and dappled, its teeny blue flowers floating like mist in the spring when they bloom. and the fairy rock, the one my then-little boy was certain the fairies bathed in during the night, what with its carved-out dip in the middle, where the rain pooled and the dew at the dawn collected, just deep enough for the toes of a wee romping thing to splash in.
i moved north, not so many miles really, but a long long way from my garden. i moved to a house that was old, that felt like my grandmother’s, and that had quite a fine garden. a garden that once had been very much loved. but not in a while. and not by me.
a garden is, oddly, like an old pair of underwear. it is yours and yours alone. you know how it fits, and it knows where your bumps are, where maybe you’ve worn out your elastic.
the garden i inherited with this old house was, well, not one that belonged in my underwear drawer. it was all fuchsia and red, blood red. i like my underwear, and my gardens, a little softer on the eye. more white maybe, with great ribbons of blue, touches of yellow, here and there a french knot of pink. i don’t like plants that are brown–brown on purpose, not because they weren’t watered. and i don’t like spiky things so very much.
but apparently, the same woman who liked her bathrooms in brown, and her odd-colored tile running over the floor and straight up the walls of her kitchen, liked gardens in dark, deep colors too.
the other thing was that my old garden, as i said, was little. this one spread over a whole leafy yard, twice the size of my old city lot, and, by the time i got to it, it was unbearably overgrown. i could see through the weeds in plenty of parts. knew hard work had been done.
but it wasn’t mine. and it overwhelmed me.
i nearly broke out in itches when i walked out the door and saw all the weeds, towering, climbing, trying to swallow me, i was often convinced.
i couldn’t for the life of me find where the starting line was. mostly, i pretended the weeds were there on purpose. for shade. and shadow. occasionally, one of the weeds sprouted some color. purple. or pink. or great masses of gold. except for the sneezing, no one minded when i brought them into the house.
and for the last few years, i’ve been a little preoccupied anyway. by the sound of hammers and buzzsaws. not much point in trying to dig out from under the sawdust, was how i saw it all.
but then this year came. this was the year, i’d been telling myself. and my very dear friend, who long long ago got me started, back in my little garden.
her name’s marguerite, and i call her my fairy gardenmother. last time, after we finished digging, and tucking wee things here and there in my old city garden, we decided the very last thing it needed was a blessing.
so, we called up her mate, who happens to be a rabbi (though now he’s mostly a deep thinker and therapist) and who, along with my fairy gardenmama, lived just down the block.
he, along with marguerite, came one late summer’s night, with candles and prayers. we blessed that old garden. asked it to be fruitful and multiply. funny thing is, after years and years of hoping and trying and plain giving up, i turned out to be the one who got fruitful and multiplied. my little one, i always laugh, came from that old garden blessing.
anyway, ever since i moved here, my old friend marguerite wasn’t so keen on crossing the city line. didn’t want to come north where it’s leafy. said she’d need shots and a passport.
but finally, she came. with her truck loaded down with all sorts of grasses and ferns and flowers in white and all shades of blue. she came with a tree that weeps, and another one that is bent, like an old lady’s backbone, all crooked and twisted.
once again, she waved her magic wand, and next thing i knew i was finally home. i have my old garden again. only it’s new, and it’s here in the north. it’s only a swatch of the yard. but it’s stitched like a tapestry with textures and smells, and already my toes know the way to meander from the stepping-stone path up the slope to the sweet little tree at the top. and off near the pines, we moved all the birdhouses into what i now refer to as the subdivision.
i can’t much sleep these days so i tiptoe out at the dawn. i see who’s standing and who’s fallen down. i haul out the hose. i water and water. i find my cat curled, trying out plants, apparently. trying to decide which is the best fit. or the one that least scratches his bottom, perhaps.
it’s all rushing back. like a river inside. the whole link to the earth. how it soothes me to tuck little things in the mounds of fine loam. how it startles me, makes me stand at attention. how working down low to the ground, i hear a flutter of wind, look up, and there’s mama robin plucking a berry. or i dig, and find a fat worm.
suddenly, i seem to have discovered the starting line here in my garden. i’m heaving rocks, cutting back limbs. i am weeding and cutting, and transplanting here, there and everywhere. i am imagining white picket fences and wind chimes, and rambling roses. i am covered in mud. and i like mud.
but the very best part is what it’s all doing to my soul. i feel it rustling awake. i find myself dreaming again. i’m plotting a land of enchantment. of where to tuck what. and who will bloom next. i wonder, if i was a butterfly, where i would land.
the thing i love most about every garden is how each is a story waiting to be told. it will take years to turn all the pages, to find out who blooms and who dies. who will climb walls, sink into the mortar of this old place that is ours now, utterly ours. and, come springtime, which crook in the limbs will be home to the robin’s nest.
i know–because a garden is equal parts breath-taker and heart-stomper–that winters will take their toll. and stormy nights. and soccer balls, too.
but there is wisdom deep in a garden, and lessons waiting their turn.
for now, though, the lesson is this: when the road home is a long one, the welcome is sweet, all right. succulent, really. so fine, the juice drips down your chin. and you lick it. and the taste comes tumbling back at you, a taste you remember all over again. and now, this time, you won’t give it up.
seven summers without it, is far, far too long. you realize, at once and at last, just how famished you were.
oh, and one other thing: when yours is a garden not in the city, buy an extra long hose.
do you find yourself enchanted by what grows in your garden? have you moved from one plot to the next, but found it took some time till your heart found its place in the new place? if a garden isn’t the thing that stirs you to dreaming, what is? if you had to pick one plant from your garden to pack up and tuck onto the moving truck, which one would it be?