For children of all ages, C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe has been the entryway to the magical world of Narnia–of emerald witches, talking horses, kings, and magic apples. But for L.R. Holmes of Camp Cottage, Gloucestershire, the threshold to enchantment is nothing more notable than a grey gate. An ordinary grey gate, in need of repair.
Some years back, my companion and I were “on holiday,” six miles west of Gloucester in western England, scouring the countryside for private gardens open for tours—each listed in a slim yellow volume we discovered in a timeworn Oxford bookshop. Our day had been carefully planned, an ambitious schedule covering three districts and four gardens. The absence of a speed limit on any motorway accommodated our manic pace. It was mid-afternoon by the time we pulled our car into the Camp Cottage drive. The sight of a lifeless grey gate, flanked by an equally worn, lighter grey, paint chipped garage was disheartening. If not for a small lemon-colored paper sign–on which was stenciled “GARden Tour SaTURday” stapled to a tomato stake, we would have chalked it up to a bum map, called it a learning experience, and retired to the nearest pub for solace. Which is never a bad idea.
Instead, slumped behind the wheel on the wrong side of our Vauxhall, I heaved great sighs, and simmered in disappointment. But… beyond the gate. Caught off guard, my senses reel, unable to fully ingest a Bacchanalian feast. I am greeted by the rambling rose “Goldfinch,” a prolific and wanton panoply, a twenty-foot tunnel of small salmon-colored blooms, oozing an intoxicating, honeyed sweetness. The pergola on which it spreads, forming an awning over the pathway, is shaped from stout wood staves (each a full six-inch diameter, and made by L.R. and his step-brother “for only 250 pounds sterling,” he later reported proudly, with an infectious lack of self-consciousness) and covered prodigally by an intertwining of tawny honeysuckle, milky clematis, and the musky cologne of the antique climbing rose Madame Alfred Carriere’—indispensable if for her name only.
We are all in favor of beauty, for moments of wonder and delight.
But for some reason, we think we need to tidy up first.
May Sarton wrote that we need to a way to sanctify the ordinary.
Yes, grey gates and all that. Which sounds wise, that is, if the ordinary weren’t… well, so ordinary. We know from experience that ordinary doesn’t sell. And no matter how we doctor it up, the fact remains that life is so… so… daily.
For two hours my companion and I immersed ourselves into the mosaic of color and the jumble of scents that was L.R.’s garden. Well, there was simple no alternative. Extreme conditions call for extreme measures.
So. I sat down for some time and savored the day. On a bench near the garden edge, sharing the seat with a drowsy and placid cat, I let the sunshine work its antidote. It’s not easy, to just sit. I wanted to be productive in my sitting. I wanted to describe what I was seeing, what I was feeling. I wanted to find the right words, or take a picture, wanting to find container for this moment. Before long, the internal manic cadence begins to lose its steam. And your eyes being to refocus. Off come the shoes, and you settle in, to revel in the gift. If I give up, you know, needing that formula.
This week, we embrace the invitation to sanctify the ordinary.
The hiding place for the holy.
May Sarton put it best (and now my daily mantra). “I spend the first 20 minutes of my morning walking the garden looking for miracles.”
I am struck by the rootedness that comes with investment.
Literally giving a damn.
And gratefully, it is the place where delight bubbles up, a “praising of the mysterious and tender touching we are so often in the midst of.” (Thank you Ross Gay, The Book of Delights.) Joseph Campbell’s observation, “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive—of the rapture of being alive.” Yes, the sacrament of the present moment…
Late in her life, May Sarton was questioned about what she wanted to be when she “grew up.” She replied, “To be human.”
To be human is about regaining what has been lost in the shuffle when life has been relegated to keeping score and making waves. To be human is about cultivating the good life. To be human is about gardening the soul.
Now, I want to do less, and live more. I want to simplify. So. Now, my questions have begun to change: Instead of, what have you done to make you somebody, I ask…
Are there butterflies in your garden?
Are there dandelions in your lawn?
And when was the last time your house smelled of paper-white narcissus?
Do sunsets make you smile? When was the last time you stood in stocking feet just to stare at the moon? Have you ever seen a sunflower bloom? Does the laughter of children do your heart good? At what angle does the sun enter your house? And when do your irises blossom? Are you comforted by the sound of rain of your roof? And have you watched the hummingbirds dance?
I love to watch the hummingbirds dance.
I love the magic and sweet enchantment of fresh blackberries from the vine.
I love garden dirt under my fingernails and Adirondack chairs on warm summer days.
I love books, delight in poetry, and find sustenance in writing.
I treasure the certainty that grace gives us all many second chances.
I love the way the morning sun plays a sky melody through the tall firs.
And I love that the geese are returning to our neck of the woods. I’m glad to see them. I have stories to tell.
Quote for our week…
“Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Such striving may seem admirable, but it is the way of foolishness. Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself.” William Martin
Today’s Photo Credit: From my garden, Vashon Island, WA… Keep sending your photos… send to terryhershey.com
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Letters that do my heart good…
–Hi Terry, Hope you are planning for your trip to God’s country soon. I loved the quote today “nobody escapes being wounded.” What a truth this is. I’ve been reading a bit about wounds lately (not from my nurse perspective but from my heart) and I stumble across some great material on how Jesus heals our wounds into scars. That’s how we know healing has occurred, we have a scar not a wound. Some will say that scar tissue in the flesh never has the initial strength it originally had, but I beg to differ. A scar may not have the elasticity of original skin but it is fibrous, tough sinewy tissue that pulls the brokenness back together. Wounds into scars, Jesus healing. What a thought. Thanks for lending a hand to help us spill light. Hugs to you my friend. Linda, Pleasant Garden, NC
–Dear Terry, I love the “reason for typos.” Speaking of prayer and meditation, I spend time each morning at sunrise standing under the branches of a huge tree, as close in to the trunk as I can get, and say my morning prayers followed by a short meditation. I taste the air heavy with morning dew, say hello to a few small lizards, and wish the birds well. Am amazed by the daily clouds of all shapes and colors. I feel blessed by God here. I feel welcomed as one of God’s creatures. I am home. Then I come in and read “Sabbath Moment” and my morning is complete. Thank you. Suchin
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Do we really need much more than this?
To honor the dawn.
To visit a garden.
To talk to a friend.
To contemplate a cloud.
To cherish a meal.
To bow our heads before the mystery of the day.
Are these not enough?
Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated
And let my cry come unto Thee.
Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.
Let me learn from you, love you,
bless you before you depart.
Let me not pass you by
in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
Let me hold you while I may,
for it may not always be so.
One day I shall dig my nails into the earth,
or bury my face into the pillow,
or stretch myself taut,
or raise my hands to the sky and want,
more than all the world,
Mary Jean Iron