Wednesday, March 7, 2012
I am ceaselessly amazed how every single week, year-round, my arrival in the garden is met with some unexpected beauty – a new bloom, a new leaf color, a new fragrance.
Shortly thereafter I began to periodically help out in her garden, which evolved into a more regular and committed relation with Jane. As I gardened alongside Jane over the years, a short poem by Wendell Berry came back to me with renewed significance. The poem is titled “The Current”.
a man has made a marriage with his place,
and if he leaves it his flesh will ache to go back.
His hand has given up its birdlife in the air.
It has reached into the dark like a root
and begun to wake, quick and mortal, in timelessness,
a flickering sap coursing into his head
so that he sees the old tribespeople bend
in the sun, digging with sticks, the forest opening
to receive their hills of corn, squash, and beans,
their lodges and graves, and closing again.
He is made their descendant, what they left
in the earth rising in him like a seasonal juice.
and he sees the bearers of his own blood arriving,
the forrest burrowing into the earth as they come,
their hands gathering the stones up into walls,
and relaxing, the stones crawling back into the ground
to lie still under the black wheels of the machines.
The current flowing to him through the earth
flows past him, and he sees one descended from him,
a young man who has reached into the ground,
his hand held in the dark as by a hand.
A sparsely-branched pine, creaking in the wind with age, whispers a reminder that Jane lived through two World Wars, the Korean war, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Persian Gulf War, the Iraq War , and countless other battles, conflicts, and skirmishes.
Nearby, a dinner table-sized oak stump blurts out to be heard. “After two of those wars, a passionate young gardener planted me here outside her back doorstep.” “She lived and grew under me,” the stump continues, “as I grew along with her, eventually shading the entire roof in the summer. Under my protective crown, she raised a full family; garden beds sprouted at my base and multiplied outward. In my later years, her indomitable spirit brought her out on walks, usually twice a day, past my massive trunk, which continued for I know not how long, for suddenly one day my sap stopped flowing and my grandeur was returned to the soil. With all her stamina and vigor, the matriarch to whom I am indebted outlived me.”
A relentless and somewhat arrogant honeysuckle vine which has colonized the interior of a white quince, trembles as it relates: “that Mrs. Heyward often hiked with hand pruners or machete, mercilessly decapitating my cousins growing up in the mountains. Clipping a path while hiking, sometimes beyond the no trespassing signs, Mrs. Heyward cut a path for herself throughout her life. Her enthusiasm was also clearing a way for others who are brave enough to follow.”
The Hellebores, which withstand the worst of droughts and whatever winter can throw at them reliably deliver white blooms when the garden is at a relative quiet. Despite colonizing large chunks of real estate in the shade, the Hellebores meekly declare defeat when comparing themselves to Jane’s tenacity to get out in the garden. No number of falls or ailments was able to keep Jane inside for long and away from her walks in her garden. The Hellebores submissively acknowledge Jane’s spirit by nodding their white blooms downward.
A beautifully crafted but now terribly dismembered marble statue made by the Italian artist Donato Barcaglia in 1876 is a poignant reminder of the hierarchy of Jane’s thoughts. One day I was shocked to discover a massive white pine branch laying across the statue. Various fingers and smaller pieces had been broken off in the past, probably by similar falling limbs, but this time, a child’s stone head lay on the ground so at the very least, a decapitation had occurred. I was extremely hesitant to move or chainsaw any of the branch over concerns of causing even more damage. Flustered, I went inside to deliver Jane the bad news. Jane’s response was more in the neighborhood of why are you telling me this? Why don’t you just cut the branch off? Essentially, why are you losing your head over this one? At that moment, Jane happened to be focusing on something more important.
Jane’s response immediately reminded me of another literary image and one that continues to resonate with me and my memory of Jane. It is from The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by the Czech writer Milan Kundera. The characters in this selection are husband and wife, Karel and Marketa, and Karel’s mother. The scene is set with Karel and his mother taking a walk:
Jane introduced me to both the rich sensory experiences of her garden and the perspectives from her life richly lived. While I will continue to miss our shared passion and her pearls of wisdom, her garden offers all of us a living experience of her passion and an endless evolving source of wisdom if we only avail ourselves to its presence.
With my many memories of Jane as mileposts, I am confident that one day I too can bask in the sun surrounded by the familiar foliage & floral friends of countless years and perhaps pass along to a fertile youth the passions which Jane has so trustingly nurtured in me.
Your garden keeps me alive as well.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
not for Jane’s father, Jim Gamble, Sorrento would never have become
the Robbins’s summer retreat. Dr. Gamble was one of Fred Robbins’s
favorite professors at Children’s Hospital in Boston, and in the
summer of 1949, he generously offered Fred and his new wife, Alice,
the opportunity to take a belated honeymoon on Calf Island. Mom and
Dad treasured the memory of that glorious summer when they fell in
love with Sorrento. They returned every year, later with their
children, who grew up to become avid members of Jane’s trail crew. But
if another of Dr. Gamble’s introductions had turned out as well, that
honeymoon on Calf Island might never have happened! One of Dad’s
oft-told stories (and one that Jane especially enjoyed) recounted his
first meeting with Jane, probably in 1947, some months before he met
Alice. Dr. Gamble had invited Dad to come out to his family’s farm in
Taunton one Sunday for lunch and to meet his daughter Jane, who was
just a year younger than Dad. A matchmaking attempt, no doubt about
it. Here’s Dad: “I was in the sitting room holding my drink, and Dr.
Gamble said that his daughter would be in shortly. Suddenly a young
woman in blue jeans strode into the room, shook my hand vigorously,
and started talking about baseball and batting averages. I was taken
aback because I hadn’t seen many women wearing blue jeans, and I
didn’t know the first thing about baseball. When she realized that
conversation wasn’t going anywhere, she asked me what I knew about
cattle. I knew nothing at all! Well, that was the end of that. It was
apparent that she found me a most unimpressive fellow.” The match
wasn’t a complete failure, though; many years later, when the crowds
that used to set off from the Red Barn had mostly drifted away, Dad
remained Jane’s stalwart trail-mate.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Sunday, February 19, 2012
The paper started with her birth: February 18, 1917. However it made no mention of the earliest description of her infancy. This description was discovered in a letter written by her mother – who was given this advice for dealing with her screaming baby Jane: put this child outside in a box from 9AM to 10PM; only visit her for feeding. The advice was taken and it seemed to work. Apparently, Jane was much happier in the woods– even at the very start of her life. Now, that sounds like her, doesn’t it?
She doesn’t mention her childhood in Baltimore and then Brookline, Massachusetts. But what stood out for my mother was weekends at the farm in Taunton, summers in Maine, and her beloved camping trips with her father and Dr. Park, fly fishing along rivers in remote Cape Breton, Canada. She loved the long days in the wilds, exploring, fishing, outside morning, noon and night. Sounds like her, doesn’t it?
She doesn’t mention her years at the Winsor School and her giggle from the back of the classroom that her yearbook describes, or even her year in Switzerland where she spoke only French at her Swiss school. But Bryn Mawr College was fondly noted: the German house, her major in Greek and archeology and her subsequent trip to the Mediterranean where she spent the summer digging in Greece and then sleeping on the deck of the boat as it pulled in and out of harbors on the Black Sea and Mediterranean. Sounds like her doesn’t it?
1948 and her marriage to Henderson Heyward are duly noted, but she makes no mention of how it felt to adjust to the South in the 1950’s: to perm her hair and wear lipstick and always a skirt. Nor does she make note of her children’s birthdates: 1949, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1956, 1958. She loved birthdays actually, but she also loved activity, the child that could ski and ride and sail and, well…hike. Up the mountains, loaf of bread and peanut butter jar in hand. As for quiet times at home, how about hearing her read aloud the bloody Irish myths of Cahoulain, or the battle-filled King Arthur legends? Sounds like her, doesn’t it?
She makes no mention of the night when I was about 10 or 11 and I asked my father who he thought was the most beautiful woman in the world and he said, looking at my mother in her mink coat and red lipstick, “Your mother. And she becomes more beautiful with each passing year.” And I looked at her and knew it was true and would always be true. I doubt she heard it.
She notes the year she bought Laneway Farm, but not the years and years as a successful farm woman running the dairy farm, and her visits to Vermont and Washington state and Scotland and New Zealand dairy farms, or of her reknown in the field for her writing about cattle breeding and organic farming. Nor does she mention how much we children complained about her car that always smelled of manure, or riding in the truck that seemed ready to tip over when the cow in the back shifted position. And why did we always have to eat brown bread made out of carrots? And freshly squeezed orange juice full of stringy pulp? And why did she need to take that bread everywhere with her, even on the airplane? Sounds like her doesn’t it?
She doesn’t give dates to when Henderson stopped accompanying her for even part of her annual summer trips to Sorrento, Maine, so she could spend day in and day out exploring Schoodic Mountain, Champlain, the Black Hills, or the wildly windy waters of Frenchman’s Bay on her catamaran, long after any sane sailor knew to head in. Sounds like her doesn’t it?
She doesn’t mention her discovery of Old Rag Mountain in Virginia, and her gradual shift over the years from looking for available hiking trails to map reading and bushwhacking her way across terrain of any height nearby. Nor does she mention her blossoming friendship with Boo and many and any hiking friends and home schoolers, or how she moved faster than most people can walk, clipping branches and sharing as she went: about this bird or that wild flower. Scraped shins, bruised knees, gone for 2, 4, maybe 6 hours at a time. Sounds like her, doesn’t it?
She does mention Fortune’s Cove, 755 acres of exceptionally beautiful land in Nelson County, Virginia, now set aside for all to explore and enjoy. Her legacy for those who love the land as much as she did.
Grandchildren: each birth carefully marked down. More company for the trails. More children to play in her garden. More people to join her outside, more to love the earth in the way that she did: Did you know Arthur is a gardener at Monticello? Did you know Chafee has sailed all over the world? Did you know Hunter has taught children about farming? Did you know Suzanne is living in Kenya? Did you know Chloe and Vicka and Julia found puppies at the barn? Sounds like her doesn’t it?
She does mention her garden. For years and years we heard her say: “My garden is what keeps me alive” as she made her way from one chair to the next, noticing every bud, every scent of bloom. Like the woods when she was a baby, she was sustained by her love of the earth. Near the end, she added to that …” And my caretakers: Pat and Jackie and Ginny and Beth and Tressie and Edna” and more, and of course, my brother Jimmy, who day in and day out, year in and year out, checked in on her, found her the chairs, the elevators, perfectly placed birdfeeders that gave her such joy… and everyone who tended her garden and the farm. Much as she might never have admitted it, she loved people and we loved her back. She really loved people and people really loved her back. Sounds like my mother, doesn’t it? Sounds like the person we love so much.
Friday, February 10, 2012
For the Dead
by Adrienne Rich
[ ... ]
I have always wondered about the left-over
energy, the way water goes rushing down a hill
long after the rains have stopped
or the fire you want to go to bed from
but cannot leave, burning-down but not burnt-down
the red coals more extreme, more curious
in their flashing and dying
than you wish they were
sitting long after midnight
Find the whole poem here.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Friday, January 27, 2012
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Thursday, January 12, 2012
One of my funny memories of Mom was of Dad describing Mom eating lobster.
But it wasn't just Jane, Dad said. It was Jane and all the Maine relatives.
You think they're perfectly civilized until you see them eating lobster . . .
First they boil the lobsters alive, right in front of you.
Then they serve them, steaming on a plate, shell and all.
Then there's a lot of loud cracking and snapping as they break the lobsters open with bare hands, dip the flesh in butter
and begin sucking and slurping, sucking and slurping
and then cracking and snapping
more and more . . .
Even the little tiny claws have to be dipped and sucked, dipped and sucked.
Afterwards, you have to mop your hair, face, arms, legs, feet, the floor . . . There's butter driblets and lobster juice everywhere.
And that smell of boiled lobster . . .
Mom laughed and laughed at this description.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Monday, January 9, 2012
As a former teacher herself, Mom had very little use for most of the teachers I had in grade school. And she had less use for the school rules.
When I was in first grade, as part of the dress code, we were supposed to wear brown shoes --like loafers. Mom insisted on sending me to school in red tennis shoes anyhow. She said it was absolutely ridiculous to put me in brown shoes when I was going to be racing around on a blacktop during recess. So every day Mrs. Wallace, my teacher, sent a note home with me, telling my mother that she needed to buy me some brown shoes, and every day Mom laughed at the note.
"Girls and boys should run around at recess. Hard shoes are not good for running, and you are not wearing hard brown shoes," Mom said. Every day, for the first weeks of school Mrs. Wallace would complain about my shoes. She also said my skirts were more than two inches above my knees. And my hair needed to be combed. (I had a permanent cow lick that Mrs. Wallance once hosed down with Aqua Net.) But the worst was the day when my mom picked me up, and Mrs. Wallace came to the car, wobbling on her orange high heels, to tell Mom that my tennis shoes were caked with cow manure. "What cow manure?" my mother asked, looking at my shoes which were coated with brown crusts and had a little bit of hay sticking out the sides. "Well," Mom said after a moment of silence. "It looks like she's wearing brown shoes today, doesn't it?"
Sunday, January 8, 2012
Saturday, January 7, 2012
Every year, in response to the many Xmas cards she sent out, each with a photo of the 6 of us children lined up more or less awkwardly, she got many letters back. Of all of them, I remember the one that made her giggle: the person had sent a photo of himself from the back. I might not have found it funny, but she opened it and just giggled.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
"She taught me that learning happens best in action, through experience, that you never forget something you learned with your heart beating in your ears and the blood rushing through your head, that the context of a walk and a friendship means that the shapes of leaves and the sounds of birds still come clear in your mind years later."
To read the full article, click HERE.
Monday, January 2, 2012
This was during her machete stage. She's always loved clippers and saws, but for a while there, she moved up to big knives. She had found some place that sold both saws and machetes complete with leather sheaths with belt loops. As we spoke, she was "wearing" two leather sheaths so long that they dragged the ground, one with a saw; the machete from the other being in her hand -- which she waved about absent mindedly every time she stopped to talk. Both I and her large Rottweiler kept a respectful distance and eye on the blade. Behind us was a trail of total devastation (she used a two-handed woodpeckerish stroke with the machete which was too big for her to manage one-handed).
Anyway, I could not convince her that she, with the knive(s), the dog, the devastation (and the pork-pie hat) could be scary to anybody.
[For my Birthday that year, Mom gave me one of those massive hand saws (to her amazement, I declined a machete). If I ever need to cut a three-foot-thick tree by hand, I am ready.]
Saturday, December 31, 2011
I still think of the time of day based on my childhood. Mom continued it after Dad died~ (especially the exact meal times)
4:30 AM the glare from Dad's bathroom window hits my eyes- he's awake
6:00 AM he wakes me
6:15 on the horse and riding (6:30 Mom does her yoga in her room)
8:20 school starts
12:30 - lunch on weekends - big meal of day - also on weekdays, Dad would come home to join Mom
5:15 supper for children- Mom reads aloud some ongoing saga
6:15 supper for Mom and Dad
8:15 LIGHTS OUT - (not 8 or 8:30, mind you)
(interspersed are the animal feeding times - cats, dogs, horses, cows, chickens, once pigs, the parakeets Dad captured...)
Friday, December 30, 2011
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Grandma hiked with a full suite of trailblazing supplies well into her 80s – clippers, ribbons, just in case... just in case the trail was overgrown, in case she discovered another route to a view, another path down the mountain. When I was around 5 years old, she pulled me into the woods behind Guestwick, handing over an extra pair of clippers to work alongside her. “There’s a spring back here somewhere, we need to bushwhack to find it.” And so we went, clipping along, placing ribbons as we progressed, slowly blazing a trail to the spring and to a neighboring property as Grandma identified birdcalls and pointed out various plants along the way. When we arrived at the spring, we scooped the clear water with a cut plastic milk jug, passing it between us and gulped.
“Isn’t this water more pure than anything you’ve tasted? Isn’t bushwhacking more exciting than following a trail?” And it was.
Around that time, I took to catching frogs, turning over rocks in search of bugs and salamanders, stocking ‘edible’ seeds in hand-built forts in the woods behind our house, and dreamed of becoming a naturalist, an explorer, a survivalist, joining the ranks of Rachel Carson, Tom Brown Jr. Edward Abbey, and Grandma.