I’m sitting in the garden, actually was (by the time this is posted) sitting in the garden, after a long long absence. It was as though a loud bell just went off singing throughout this land, “I Am Summer!” Come out and smell and sit and gaze at the beauty all around you. So here I sit instead of cleaning out the damp, musty basement.
My house is old and the basement deep underneath it, the walls two feet thick. The casement windows also set deep into the ground and now full of moss and cobwebs and foggy glass. Once I saw a mole frantically jumping up and down and up and down trapped in that window prison. Terrified, thinking it a rat, I ran upstairs not knowing what to do, how to set it free away from the house. Even though I thought it was a rat I felt sorry for it. I finally called my handyman who came, hosed down the moss and cobwebs, but alas he found the little mole was dead, unable to free itself from those ancient windows.
So going into the basement always feels like visiting Vincent Price in the “Pit and the Pendulum”. It is so dank and awful because I never bothered to deal with those windows, never noticed that they do not open at all, and if you open them now, the old rusty cranks and rims will shatter to bits.
Instead I bought shrubs and trees and flowers and flowers and more flowers. In my family you never have enough money but you really can never ever have too many flowers.
There is an old trap door to the basement on the side of the house. Often I climb up the nine narrow stone steps and lift the heavy door while opening it slowly over my head. Cobwebs, twigs, grass, bugs, and dried leaves left over from the winter generally fall on my face and hair during the process. I do this dozens of times in the spring, summer and fall to air out the basement. Every time I’m lifting the door I think it will crush my arms and head and smash me like a little cockroach, and someone will find me like that at the bottom of the old stone floor.
Once years ago I ran across the door to get to some weeds on the other side and didn’t notice that the door was rotting. It gave way and I crashed through, my right leg plunging in up to my hip. I sat there dazed for about half an hour. No one was home and my neighbors were gone. I was glad to be alive and not at the bottom on the floor, but couldn’t get myself out. I was too embarrassed to yell and just sat there suspended by the crashed door wondering if eagles would come and peck out my eyes, start eating my scalp……. after about an hour I figured out how to get out and was astonished to be whole in body and bones.
The basement, how I hate it. But once the trap door is open for awhile on a sunny dry day, propped up by a broom, the air slowly changes and is almost normal. Vincent Price finally leaves. Then I sweep all the floors and the cobwebs from the ceilings and crumbling windows, mop the floor three or four times (it takes that long to clean it) keep the trap door open to dry, look around in despair and run upstairs to the garden where I am now.
It is Heaven, it is Paradise, it is beyond Nirvana. How can one day be filled with so much joy and happiness and even hope, when just yesterday, and the day before and before and before all was dull, dispassionate, full of blackness and emptiness, insurmountable sorrow?
Sometimes it is just the grass. The weedy, clovey, motley, unshaven disheveledness of my messy grass, that I also never really took care of years ago. I just let the clover grow and grow. So when the grass grows in the warm months it sticks up in tall clumps like a bad haircut and in some places like tumble weeds in the desert. The unsightly grass makes my other work nil, the entire garden which is a bit on the wild side anyway, takes on a weedy, messy, slummy look.
So I finally found some gardeners who seem decent and honest and don’t charge lawyer’s fees for fifteen minutes of work. They came and mowed and gave the garden a fine edge. Voila! Complete transformation, like a sheared lamb, like the Emerald Isles, like Yeat’s Innisfree. What was a slum is now my Garden of Eden. A finely mowed lawn at least in my garden is the frame that makes it all work. The garden is a series of flowerbeds that are scalloped around the lawn and when it’s mowed everything sparkles and glows and even the weeds aren’t noticeable. It is like a beautiful frame on a painting like a beautiful pressed sheet on a freshly made bed.
But it was more yesterday, something was different at 5:45 a.m when I woke up and wandered in the garden, even the disheveled one. The cold air warming into summer air finally. It has been so cold and wet and damp all of April and May. The sun rose differently this morning. It’s warm now about 80 degrees, too warm for some but not those of us who have wandered in cold and dark rooms and dank and musty basements all winter and most of spring… It is a gentle warmth that is warming up all the seeds in the cold wet and clumpy earth (mine especially, full of clay) warming up the seeds I planted (Moulin Rouge dahlias– three types of dark red flowers, Heirloom Poppies, Lauren’s Dark Grape- that will grow four to five feet tall, and a large pendulous pink and blue bell flower from England). Finally they are poking through, perhaps too late to bloom but I will hope….
There is a breeze now– fine fresh delicate puffs of green scented air.
It’s a day later now, 10:00 a.m. The blue sky has turned to white. Large grey clouds from the west have moved in suddenly, then turning into glaciers. White mountains threatening but in a mild way as though you will be drowned in freshly churned milk or whipping cream, some light benign froth. Swallowed in translucence, you can taste the coming rain. And suddenly it changes again and you can feel the ominous storm approaching, the earth is dry and needs water but this storm promises noise too and wind and chaos, broken branches, crushed roses, smothered young shoots just starting, scattered bird nests, but then the silly things, they are building this year on fragile pipes, small open eaves, tops of gutters and even underneath my neighbor’s furnace vent.
A plane glides by just underneath the milky opalescence and a gull underneath heading west mimics the plane in shape and size. Everything is getting so much greener so fast.
The yellow rose died last year. The ancient rose that someone planted at least fifty years ago. I thought it was gone forever and there it was smothered by buckthorn which I finally cut away but did not get to the roots. The yellow rose has emerged anyway, a tall, narrow almost topiary plant on a thin needle like stem. There will be maybe 30 small roses, another shoot branching out has 20 or so buds and one is in bloom. A strong wind predicted for Sunday will probably blow it away. That is the way of beauty sometimes in a garden, fragile and ethereal, sometimes lasting only moments.
I must cut it tomorrow and save it for myself. Place it in a beautiful vase and worship it and its Creator all the day long.
I should go inside but the almost too hot sun feels too good and the intermittent fresh breezes sublime. The birds are chattering and here and there a long trill of a song. The neighbors are all gone. I have never known such peace now and quiet in this garden for so long. How long? Ten years. Ten long years longing for peace that never came. Stealing moments at 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. when I wandered in my own garden like a frightened ghost or at midnight when the white flowers bloomed, smelling them and pining for the moon. Burying my head in the white lilacs, longing for my mother and the sunny day she came bearing huge armloads of old fashioned lilacs from her garden.
We would forget all about dinner, transfixed by the smell and the sight, the fresh almost crunchy body of them, the sharp floral scent no perfumer ever captured in a bottle. The romance of it all, the sadness, the unbearable beauty of that bunch of flowers in my mother’s arms.