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Category: sacred garden

holy comforter

maybe you haul your wounded self to the water’s edge, to where rocks punctuate the water’s otherwise-unstartled flow, and set things percolating, gurgling. perhaps it’s the roar of the water falling, tumbling down ledges. or the susurrations of a creek rushing through grasses. 

maybe you park your bum in the golden glowing woods, squat on a fallen trunk of maple or oak, a log now home to mosses and mushrooms. or you press your soles to the slope of a mountain, hard against granite or igneous rock, where, as the woodsman John Muir (who advised climbing barefoot) once noted, we’re wise to absorb the sacred essence “with our heels as well as our heads.” 

the other morning, knocked about by a phone call i’d been both chasing and dreading, i sought triage and solace out where the autumn light slanted in on my garden’s last gasps. holy comfort i found there with my clippers in hand, untangling my thoughts along with the last of the tomato’s serpentine withering vines, soaking in the morning’s few waning sunbeams. 

i all but wrapped myself in the strands of this earth’s balms. holy comforter, indeed. the warmth of the harvest sun. the unparalleled green. each late-season leaf expiring its last bits of life-giving balm, or what the twelfth-century mystic and herbalist hildegard of bingen termed viriditas, the divine healing power of green. she once wrote, “there is a power that has been since all eternity, and that force and potentiality is green!” in other words, the surging “thereness” of God, life source of all. and, oh, i basked in it the other morning. 

there is something particularly soothing — nay, healing — about the comforts of the late-season garden, about the comforts of each and every season, really. 

it’s as if the earth presses itself hard against my hollowed chest, against the faint beating of my worn-thin heart. it soothes without words, the whole of the creation does. doesn’t try to fill in the silence, offer quick fix. the earth, holy comforter, simply is present. stands in certain unwobbling encounter. makes real the declaration: “i am here.”

benevolent, earth offers healing by multiple choice: should you not feel the radiant heat on the bare skin of your arms, inhale the pungent spice-notes of marigold or spearmint as you break off a stem. or catch the fluttering shadow of october’s south-bound monarch playing with the breeze. or the chatter of sparrows, incessantly sparring. 

each and every sensory channel stands at the ready, inviting the way in. 

there’s a presence, grander, more tender, than i’ve otherwise known. it’s the enveloping bosom of this holy healing earth. or the soft shoulder against which i lay my weary head. 

it’s where i turn when the hurt is too big, or not yet sorted out, not pegged into words. and i’m as certain as anything that it’s the one i call God who enwraps me when i step into the wilds, when i carry my banged-up sorry old self into the balm that is this holy comforter earth. 


Glance at the sun. See the moon and stars. / Gaze at the beauty of earth’s greenings. / Now, think. / What delight God gives to humankind / with all these things….

—Hildegard of Bingen

how has any aspect of the whole of creation comforted you of late, or in particular?

fencus interruptus

since the day i hacked back the weeds, lassoed the wild-haired junk bush, it’s been my one guaranteed wedge of the sacred.

not very wide, my prayer alley, wedged between me and the brick house next door. just wide enough for a wheelbarrow. and once the blooming begins, barely wide enough for me and my garden-clog feets.

oh, but i tiptoe back and forth anyway, feel the rambling pink roses scratch sharp against my shins, climb over the ferns or the bleeding hearts that reach out to brush me soft as a kitten’s whisker.

for three years now i have coaxed and coddled a holy trinity of climbing hydrangea, backdrop to all of the sacred, the last line of defense between me and a not-so-nice fence.

i’ve watched with chest-thumping pride as those babies finally caught on, got with the program after sputtering starts.

at long last, as i cooed and kindly cajoled, all three of ’em stuck out their sticky-toed feets and worked their way up the humdrum planks i’ve been trying to hide.

just this past summer those vines reached the top, a triumphant hallelujah, indeed — if you’d been listening, that is, deep in the night when the plants in a garden do all their whoppin’ and hollerin’.

after all this twirling my thumbs, and all of these summers and autumns and winters of waiting, my old side garden, my contemplative place, the walk where i sit on a bench, or the stoop where i soak up the sun like a frog on a lily pad, it had finally grown lush, grown through-and-through green, become like a tunnel of leaves and fronds and bird houses and bluestone steps.

you could get lost there. and, so help me, i did.

but yesterday morn, when the winds blew mighty and fierce, my little one was scooping up pancakes, sitting on a stool that looks out through the door and onto the one swatch of garden he and i have a habit of watching.

that’s when he yelped, “oh, no, george’s fence is blowing away.”

and that’s when i looked. and by golly, that boy who keeps watch on me, on our world, now that he’s the only kid home, he was 100-percent utterly right. george’s fence was blowing away. or at least over. headed straight for my bushes and trees.


it was barely seven o’clock, but i leapt from the house in my bare naked feet, and hurdled straight over a pumpkin. i had a fence on the loose to corral, and a whole line of sacred to save.

i got there in the nick of time, you’ll be happy to hear.

but, already, it was too late.

the fence was awobble, aquake.

i called up george, our dear next-door friend, and told him what was the matter.

oh, that fence, he sighed. told me a chunk of it had caved in already, on the far side of the yard, where i couldn’t see. told me he’d get his fence guy right over.

well, that fence guy is here all right, told me he’d have to get at the fence by tromping straight through my garden.

egad, i said. though i believe, if i’m honest, the word in my head wasn’t nearly so scrubbed-up-and-polished.

um, mr. fence man, i said, you cannot tromp through my garden. my garden, you see, is very much alive, and it very much matters. the soles of your shoes, smooshed on those stems, on those leaves, they will crush every last bit. and along with the garden, they’ll steamroll my soul.

so, the fence man and i, we reached a detente. or at least his version of an agreeable deal: if i pulled down every last spoke of my climbing hydrangeas, if i tenderly talked to the hundreds and dozens of sticky-toed clingers, if i promised each one that it wouldn’t hurt, that i was actually trying to save them, well then, we might be in business.

the falling-down fence would be fixed, and my bushes and trees — and ferns and mop-head hydrangeas and forget-me-nots and bleeding hearts and sage and nodding onion and on and on and on — it all would stand a fair chance of making it through to next spring. or at least through the weekend, i gulped, fighting back worries.

the climbers, the ones that clung to that fence for dear life, the ones that had soared to the top of their particular mountain, they now dangle, adrift.

the roots, far as i know, are solidly planted. no foots have crushed them so far, and so help me God, they shall not.

but the act of tearing them off, of taking them down from their proud climbing wall, why, it felt worse than yanking a band-aid off the hair of your knee. poor hydrangea.

poor garden. poor gardener.

life is like that sometimes: just when you reach the top of the hill, when the climb is behind you and the view is quite something up there, the whole thing comes tumbling apart. you lose your bearings. you do what you’ve long dreaded.

and you start all over again.

i’ll be out there tonight, with rolls of scotch tape. and plenty of triple-strength holy water. a good sprinkle, a dousing, never hurt, now did it? certainly not in a garden whose first name is sacred.

and so goes the latest installment in the sad tale of fencus interruptus.

was a week for weird weather, all right. my boy in far off amherst, suffered a storm they’re calling “snowtober.” 12 inches of snow. trees down left, right, and sideways.
as i type, my sweet mate is on a train chugging toward that very college. it’s family weekend but i am at home. that’s a bummer, indeed. but i’ll get my turn in the spring.
in case you’re in the mood for a little typing, here’s a question: what mountains have you, like my hydrangea, finally climbed, only to discover, you’ve got to start all over again……

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…