my not-so-secret garden
i’ve been under the spell, i do believe, since that long-ago sunday when i should have been in church. but instead, i rubbed the thermometer on my bedsheets, allowed the friction there to be my accomplice in the charade of sunday-morning fever.
now that the statute of limitation’s surely well expired, i can confess my sin at last: i’d feigned the fever so i could stay in bed with the book that stole forever my heart, (and, apparently, my soul) and, yes, my whole imagination.
twas then and now, frances hodgson burnett’s “the secret garden,” with pen and ink and watercolors by my enchantress, tasha tudor.
twas the book that took me down the sinner’s path, and opened up a lifetime’s looking for, believing in, the dappled path to paradise.
oh, who could go to church, sit stiff in wooden pews, when instead i might tiptoe along behind orphaned mary lennox as, at last, the robin redbreast showed her the long-lost key to the long-locked little door that opened into the long-still garden, where once upon a time heartbreak happened and the old once-beautiful garden was left to die of sorrow.
indeed, instead of whispering my morning prayers, my heart leapt up and out of me, traveled off to english countryside. was there inside the garden walls, where ivy hung, “a loose and swinging curtain.” peeking through the “fairy-like gray arches” of the climbing roses, tangled over trees in slumber, swinging down in “long tendrils which made light swaying curtains.”
so it says on pages 92 to 96, where i barely breathed the first time through, nor just now as i read again the words that birthed in me a life’s-long enchantment with secret nooks and crannies where fairies dart from leaf to leaf, and robins lay their sticks, their curls of birchbark, where sky-blue eggs are laid, are hatched, where wee small beaks just barely make a chirp when mama comes with worm.
oh, i am enchanted, yes, by the secret garden.
and just beyond my kitchen door, where a summer ago and long before, was gnarly bush and weeds that grabbed you by the knee, there seems to have sprouted a patch as enchanted as any i have ever known.
i cannot keep myself from there, where fronds of fern tickle me on the shin, and hydrangea drapes before my nose. i’ve a curly-barked maple that is home, already, to the robin and the red bird.
just this christmas past, i discovered tucked between a weeping hemlock and that maple a bird-house bench, one built for me by my beloved friend, jim the builder, and left one afternoon before a giant snow blew in. i had no clue it was there, till two days later, when, out shoveling before the dawn, i caught a glint of early-morning sunlight shining off the copper-topped birdhouse peak. and there, with snow cascading down, i wept. overtaken by the tiptoeing-in of the humble builder who had faith i’d find his gift and hadn’t thought to pester me, inquire, had i found it, had i found it?
ever since, it’s my preferred spot for taking mugs of steamy morning coffee. or mid-day lemon waters. or sips of wine, as sun’s long last rays bid the garden, “good day.”
or, if i can’t bear the few-steps walk to the bench, i might plop my bottom on the blue-stone stoop, just beyond the kitchen door, just down from where the basil and the thyme and the flat-leaf parsley grow in the wooden box along the windowsill. sitting there, i am eyeball-to-eyeball with the butterflies that land in the unnamed bush, or atop the country mailbox that holds my garden gloves and clippers.
and, best of all, my meandering walk, with blooms of creamy white and fronds and leaves of grayish-green and silver-green and almost lime (who knew how many shades of green there are?), at last has the proper entrance i have dreamed about, well, forever and ever.
there is now, at the south end of my not-so-secret garden, a perfect arch, with arbors on the side, and bentwood top, where you might look up and watch the clouds, the sun, the stars, play peek-a-boo.
not yet do the roses ramble up.
but they will.
old roses, dusty pink, tissue-paper vintage roses. the ones from storybooks and block island, that faraway place a ferry’s ride from rhode island’s coast where winding lanes are lined with old stone walls and miles of rather ancient roses have been forever rinsed by sea-salt breezes, so the color’s nearly drained, and just a whisper’s left of palest oyster pink.
it is the place i’m drawn to morning, noon and dark at night. i’ve been known to stand there watching moonbeams on the mopheads of hydrangea. i tiptoe out before the dawn, just to be alone, to absorb the misty earth in morning prayer. i dart in and out all day, watch the light play shadow games.
we each, every one of us, need a secret sacred place to hope and dream and cast our prayers on passing breeze.
those of us who scatter seeds of holiness, who tuck them in the loamy mounds of garden, we are blessed with bursting forth of bulb and branch. we endure the heartache of the dying stalk, the one we cannot resurrect, not with all the love and faith we know how to muster.
there are lessons to be taught from every garden and the paths that meander through.
and, oh, to be among the ones who understand the volumes of truth nestled there among the trailing vines, the fairy-like arches and the light swaying curtains that come in many shades of green.
oh, to be grown up and, after all these years, still hold dear the secrets of the garden. even when it’s not so secret, after all.
bless you, holy garden.
where is your secret sacred place? the plane of pillows by your window? the armchair that wraps around you? the middle step on your front stairs? or perhaps you too have a slice of enchantment that grows just beyond your kitchen door, or way out back where no one knows you hide?
we are deep in festivity here at this old house, with birthday on top of birthday, a whole pile-up of cakes and candles, and digits clicking ever forward. today’s the one that belongs to the father of my boys; two days from now, my little one turns nine. just day before last, my most beloved brother david blew out candles right alongside the nation’s president. and two days before that my papa would have been 82. thirty years ago he died. be still, my ever-broken heart…..now healed enough to love and laugh beyond my wildest dreams…
“i shall never have the garden i have in my mind, but that for me is the joy of it; certain things can never be realized and so all the more reason to attempt them. a garden, no matter how good it is, must never completely satisfy. the world as we know it, after all, began in a very good garden, a completely satisfying garden–Paradise–but after a while the owner and the occupants wanted more.”–jamaica kincaid, “my garden,” 1999
As the boys grow older, I can no longer push and prod them, fortunately, they no longer need that. But my maternal instincts have to go somewhere and they seem to be landing in the garden where the plants and flowers not only give joy but stay where they are planted, never leave for college, understand my pruning strategies and never complain about the hummingbirds and finches eating them! Thank god for the garden and the secret places only we enjoy. Remember the Perseids on Thursday night from the garden. We will all be looking up at the same sky…..
SOOOOOOOOO beautifully put……bless you and thank you for that. i too have been thinking about how gardening grows into certain eras of one’s life…..and it is suited for the more contemplative years……all that preceded it is indeed planted there, but it seems to take time and wisdom, accumulated, and perhaps a dash of lifelong imagination, to truly find bliss in the embroidering of a patch of holy blessed earth…..PJT i am so delighted you somehow magically, miraculously, found the chair……thank you.