If you’ve read Blooming into Mindfulness, you know that my Virginia garden became my first mindfulness mentor when we bought our house twenty-two years ago, though I didn’t have the language at the time to understand her calming effect on me. Today I thought I’d share with you a scene that didn’t make it into the final version of the book, which describes the first garden that provided me refuge as a child.
This garden came into my life when my family moved to Vancouver, Washington, when I was in fourth grade. We lived there for about three years before my father’s bipolar disorder finally tore the marriage apart and my mother and sisters and I moved to a smaller place. I visited this garden last summer for the first time in decades. That’s me standing under the grape arbor next to my “clubhouse,” which has long since been converted back to a garden shed.
The largest of our houses, the last one we all lived in together before my parents divorced, came with a massive terraced garden filled with fruit trees, rose bushes and other flowering shrubs, raspberry brambles, and a sizable grape arbor. It was in that backyard swath of Eden that I sank my nose into the center of a rose for the first time, hypnotized by its heady aroma. I was nine or ten years old. At the time my favorite book was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, in which the protagonist children searching for their lost father are each given a large flower to breathe into while being transported by Mrs. Whatsit, a supernatural being in the form of a centaur-like creature, through another realm’s high altitudes. The flowers served as oxygen masks while the children rode on Mrs. Whatsit’s back through the clouds to the top of a mountain. I would breathe into my own peach-colored rose like Meg and her little brother Charles Wallace did in the book, all of us equally worried about our fathers.
Totally overwhelmed by our new and very substantial garden (this was not just a yard), my mother hired help to maintain the grounds. With two garden sheds on the property and not many tools of our own to fill them, I convinced my mother to let me take over the larger of the sheds for my “clubhouse.”
I recall doing most of the renovation work myself, although my father must have helped build the makeshift loft bed, which was just an old door secured along the short side of the shed. I cleaned out the spider webs, installed a bright yellow linoleum floor, and hung pictures. The grape arbor was anchored to the shed, providing my own food source in late summer. Apples, plums and raspberries were available elsewhere on the densely planted property if I got tired of grapes. My sisters were teenagers by that point and were happy to have their annoying little sister out of the way. Holed up in my private hideaway, sometimes with a girlfriend listening to music or making origami critters, sometimes just with a pile of books and a flashlight stuffed into my sleeping bag with me, I felt like a caterpillar in a cocoon.
Over four decades later, a garden on the other side of the country brings me the same sense of peace.
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