Another Way of Seeing
Place can superimpose its intelligence over ours if we relinquish and give in. Place can shift perspective. The questions start to change. The values do. The hues. There is another way of seeing, always. You have to open to it.
Week after week I went to Chanticleer, mostly alone. I’d take an apple with me, eat it. I’d smooth out a seat on the grass and watch grass grow. I’d take a book and press open a page and then leave it to the sun. I’d sit in a swarm of butterflies until they’d forget I was there, and I would try to catch the scent of things and give them similes. This one smells like licorice. This one could be Kool-Aid. This one could be my mother’s dress, hung up on the line to dry.
And some would say that I accomplished nothing, but I would say, looking back, that the opposite is true. I would say that I was learning to trust what I could not set in language, keep, control, or hold. I would say that I was learning to surrender. To stop warring with myself, to stop needing to be right, to come to terms with shifts and change, to sit on a hill and count my blessings.
And I would say as well that by the time September came and October edged toward November, I had come to understand that at Chanticleer they are not afraid to let things die. By the stream the once-tall ferns became a flattened molten brown, and that’s all they wereexhausted and unashamed. In the pond the lilies lost their pink but glowed. In the vegetable garden the gourds grew overheavy for their vines and sagged. And elsewhere the cornstalks singed, while the reds yielded to yellows, while the leaves on the crabapple trees took off, leaving nothing but the berries. Fewer birds were in the trees, less song, and the bees began to cluster in odd places. Fewer people were passing through, and those who were there when I was spent less time looking for their faces in the mirror of the pond.
The gardeners, though the gardeners worked their gardens. Tamped things down, harvested seeds, drew blankets over that which needed blankets. The gardeners went about doing what gardeners do. Respectful of the season.
“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy,” novelist Anatole France once wrote, “for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”
The Part of You That Loves Them
The day I took my husband to the garden it was hands-in-pockets weather. On the hill past the ruins, one of the gardeners was pulling last night’s blankets from big ballooning flowers. On another hill, the limbs of crabapple trees were rimmed with bright red berries. By the terrace, the deeply dimensional passionflowers bloomed. All about, the leaves of the hydrangea were maroon.
They were letting things die at Chanticleer; such was the season. The skies were bright blue, but the air was cold, impatient, and my husband with his camera and I with my notebook were wishing we’d brought gloves. We walked together, side by side, and then we separated. I lost sight of him at the sorghum and wended my way down toward the woods.
There were few others about, owing to the wind, the cold, the season, and I wondered, as I walked alone, whether my husband would locate the garden’s beauty. It was October, after all, and if you didn’t know all the colors and all the songs that the garden had bloomed forth with, you might not be able to imagine or to gauge all that I’d come to need. I had told him and told him and told him about the garden, but my husband was walking in it now. Can you give away the things you love, or the part of you that loves them?
It was cold, and maybe it wasn’t just the winds that were impatient. I hurried my pace and began to hunt for the man with whom I had arrived, the man with whom I’ve been for almost 20 years. It wasn’t long before I found him (it never is at Chanticleer), but at first I kept my distance. For there he was, up on the terrace, appraising a passionflower with his camera. Stepping closer, stepping back, looking at it now from a new angle, and though he must have been cold (for it was very, very cold), he seemed content inside the picture. Happy to be where he was, happy to look at what I loved, happy to take my hand when at last I called his name.
We left the garden shortly after that and came back home, to seeds.
From the book Ghosts in the Garden. Copyright © 2005 by Beth Kephart. Photographs copyright © 2005 by William Sulit. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, California. For information or to order, visit www.newworldlibrary.com or call 800-972-6657, ext. 52.
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©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Photography by Wiilliam Sulit
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