Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Thank you Bruce

Thank you Bruce for that beautiful entry. And thank you for liberating the statue's head.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Reflections as shared at Memorial Service

Jane Heyward and I shared a passion in plants.  The conduit for this sharing was her garden.
Jane’s garden is a source of infinite wonder, independent of one’s years of familiarity with the garden.  And so it was and is a magical place for each of us.

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.

Year-round!  This element of surprise, this newness, this anticipatory wonder, in a sense, keeps me engaged and young.  I have no doubt it is also what kept Jane young.  Jane stripped truth to the core by reminding all of us, more than a few times, “my garden is what keeps me alive!”
I feel in my heart the weight and power of those words.   So in addition to my back, I am able to garden with my heart.

Fortunately, the seed of our introductions  to each other fell on fertile soil.  I met Jane on a Sunday morning in her garden.  Jane was wearing  a wide-brimmed straw hat.  She was sitting on the corner of the relic of a capital of a column, her canes resting beside her.  The sun was low and off to an angle behind her.  She was absolutely bathed in morning sunlight.  The light glistened off her eyes so I could not tell where she was focusing.  She seemed to be looking far off, perhaps even beyond the horizon. Perhaps toward nothing in particular.  I felt both fearful and in awe.  Fearful because not having met her I was afraid I was interrupting something akin to religious for her.  In awe because I immediately knew my luck had landed me in the presence of a great mentor, should I quiet myself long enough to listen.
That Sunday was the first of many powerful images and lessons she gifted to me.  The first lessons were graciousness and how to sit in the sun and enjoy a garden.  All tasks on which I am still working.

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”.

Having once put his hand into the ground,
seeding there what he hopes will outlast him,
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.

And so it was that the flickering sap of Foxhaven coursed upward into my head through my heart.

Jane and her garden started to become a powerful influence in my life.  Often I would find myself in various non-work situations visualizing how I believe Jane might see things.  Gardening among the mature specimens and naturalized species in the shadow of Jane, gave me an adopted wisdom; a wisdom I had not earned in years and have not yet earned.  As ancient plants and trees decline and perish while the more juvenile and vigorous plants colonize,  the sometimes painful, sometimes rewarding lessons of time are learned.
The garden itself speaks to me directly.

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:

          Once when they were out walking, she gazed into the distance and asked, “What’s the name of that pretty white village?”  There was no village, just stone markers.  Karel felt an upsurge of pity when he realized how much his mother’s sight had deteriorated…

          To tell the truth, this characteristic of hers was not entirely new, but at one time it had bothered them greatly.  One night, for example, the tanks of a huge neighboring country came and occupied their country.  The shock was so great, so terrible, that for a long tme no one could think about anything else.  It was August, and the pears in their garden were nearly ripe.  The week before, Mother had invited the local pharmacist to come and pick them.  He never came, never even apologized.  The fact that Mother refused to forgive him drove Karel and Marketa crazy.  Everybody’s thinking of tanks, and all you can think about is pears, they yelled.  And when shortly thereafter they moved away, they took the memory of her pettiness with them. 

          But are tanks really more important than pears?  As time passed, Karel realized that the answer was not so obvious as he had once thought, and he began sympathizing secretly with Mother’s perspective – a big pear in the foreground and somewhere off in the distance a tank, tiny as a ladybug, ready at any moment to take wing and disappear from sight.  So mother was right after all: tanks are mortal pears eternal.

 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.
Despite the decades I have spent in gardens, it will be a few years more before I can attain the peaceful sense of place that Jane exhibited upon our first meeting.
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.
Thank you, Jane.

Your garden keeps me alive as well.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Matchmaking from Louise Robbins

The Robbins family has many special ties to Jane and her family. If
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

Thoughts and memories from Jocelyn

Some thoughts and memories of Jane.

“I am fooling only myself when I say my mother exists now only in the photograph on my bulletin board or in the outline of my hand or in the armful of memories I still hold tight.  She lives on beneath everything I do.  Her presence influenced who I was and her absence influences who I am.  Our lives are shaped as much by those who leave us as they are by those who stay. Loss is our legacy.  Insight is our gift. Memory is our guide.” - Hope Edelman's Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss.

Besides my own mother, no one influenced me more than Aunt Jane. As my father’s sister she shared his foundation but she, of course, represented the female version of his values. She put into action what he believed.  While he was a relatively traditional man of his generation, my father instilled in his daughters a sense of independence and Jane demonstrated it for us.  

Every summer she traveled to Maine alone with her six kids. She was passionate about what Sorrento offered and chose to expose her children to it even if it meant managing it all alone. As a young adolescent Jane caught me swimming in the heated pool and stated, “You are swimming in the pool? Why aren’t you in the Bay?” This single comment impacted my approach to life more than any piece of advice. Since then, I have always been hyperaware of indulging in anything remotely decadent.  Jane’s words resonate in my mind. As a teenager enlisted in her trail crews we discovered that a 50-60 year old woman could set a pace that challenged even the strongest of us. As a college student I watched her fly across the bay alone in a catamaran…going (almost) 60 at 60. It demonstrated a passion for sailing, a sense of independence and daringness in life. Jane never shied away from doing what she wanted to do, when she wanted to do it. She followed her passions and in her unobtrusive way she passed those interests down to so many. Anything to do with horticulture, building trails, sailing and conservation will always remind me of Jane. The farm, the mountains and the bay were her life. She engaged them, applied their lessons, passed on an appreciation for them and, ultimately, left them better than she found them.

Her eyes, her voice and her characteristic stride are etched in my mind. “Her presence influenced who I was and her absence influences who I am.” I am so appreciative for her impact on all of us. She was a gem.

In honor of her love of horticulture and her wonderful daughters, here is more from that excerpt.

“Nature often offers metaphors more elegant than any we can manufacture.  In the redwood ecosystem, all seeds are contained in pods called burls, tough brown clumps that grow where the mother tree's trunk and root system meet.  When the mother tree is logged, blown over, or destroyed by fire the trauma stimulates the burls' growth hormones the seeds release, and trees sprout around her, creating the circle of daughters.  The daughter trees grow by absorbing sunlight their mother cedes to them when she dies.  And they get the moisture and nutrients they need from their mother's root system which remains intact even after her leaves die.  Although the daughters exist independently of their mother above ground, they continue to draw sustenance from her underneath.”

More than anything else, Jane produced lovely children and that will be her ultimately legacy. Her spirit lives on in all of you.