“At points in the garden the path diverged. Go this way. Go that way. It was up to me to choose.”

Memoirist Beth Kephart C’82 has addressed motherhood (A Slant of Sun), friendship (Into the Tangle of Friendship), marriage (Still Love in Strange Places), and the imagination (Seeing Past Z) in her previous books. Ghosts in the Garden: Reflections on Endings, Beginnings, and the Unearthing of Self, published in March by New World Publishing, examines middle age and the changes that time makes in lives and nature through the prism of the passing seasons at Chanticleer Gardens in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Covering the two years following her 41st birthday, the narrative weaves together Kephart’s own story—her relationship with her now-adolescent son Jeremy and her husband Bill (whose photographs accompany the text), her thoughts about her work as a writer—with vivid descriptions of the things she sees and the people she meets on repeated visits to the garden. She also sketches the place’s history from the time it was home to the Lenni Lenape tribe through its years as a working farm and private estate to its development as a public pleasure garden on Philadelphia’s Main Line. “This is a book about land and about how land, like us, changes over time,” Kephart writes. “It is a book about our need to preserve the things we love, and our need to let them go.”

Ghosts in the Garden is moving, thoughtful, honest; both sad and somehow uplifting. We’re very pleased to offer the following excerpt. —J.P.

Held in Suspense

That first day of April, when I went to Chanticleer, the promise of the garden was held mostly in suspense. There were the unburst buds of old magnolia trees and the tentative arrival of jack-in-the-pulpits in the woods. The daffodils had raised their shoulders on the hills, the cherry trees were almost pink, and there was a tincture of crocus purple in the grass. But mostly the message was: Wait and see; watch me. Like a memory just vaguely coming into view or the mist of a dream upon awakening, the garden in early April was all suggestion and seduction.

The beauty of a garden will be revealed in time. I walked the macadam path. Stood on the bridge. Crouched near the stream. Listened to the murmuring around me: wings, women, water. What next? I asked myself. What next? I was forty-one. My son was no longer a little boy, but an adolescent with his own thoughts and agenda. I had been with my husband for nearly 20 years; how we loved and what we loved seemed entirely familiar. The work I strive to do didn’t give me pleasure anymore, and I was going nowhere, in a muddle in my mind. Can you find your purpose on a declivitous hill? Can you see beyond that turn, toward what’s next? At points in the garden the path diverged. Go this way. Go that way. It was up to me to choose.

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©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 05/05/05

What's Next
By Beth Kephart

Photography by Wiilliam Sulit

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