When I left the marriage household a few weeks ago I said goodbye to family walls with family portraits, to familiar airs and aromas, to dogs and fences; I said goodbye to projects unfinished and projects not started, to neighbors, and to a familiar place called home. I also said goodbye to an acre of dirt, some of it rich, some of it poor, all of it ours, all of it now hers; and to a million plants and insects with a surer claim to it than any mere deed or county map could ever confer. I said goodbye to weeds and clots and rocks and stumps, and only when slowing down at a spare apartment on a rainy day did the air bring home to me that I also said goodbye to a garden, to many gardens, to all the gardens that were mine.
It is a deep regret to leave them, for gardens are places of refuge and recreation to which the spirit responds far more deeply in some ways than to a mere house.
The gardens of my youth were riots of shrubs and saplings left half-wild in the wake of a single mother’s over-commitments and half-trampled from a young son’s explorations. Smells and colors meant nothing to me then; the value of a garden was in providing a safe and quiet place to read. And while the need for a hiding space evaporated over time, I still treasure the memories of hiding in the long grass at my stepmother’s house, reading old history books, lost in time, and completely invisible to anyone searching. Those gardens were refuges in fact, and if perhaps they were too wild and overgrown to be considered very garden-like, they provided fragrant spaces to be one with the earth and the sun and the air and away from the structures and enclosures nominally called home.
After youth, there was no real need for solitude, and gardens were limited as refuge. They became places to build simple spaces and soften them with new growth; a means to build something fresh for someone else. My children did not use our gardens for refuge, but for play and for parties. For this I am grateful, for happy children don’t need to disappear. Still, I am sad to leave those gardens behind, those outdoor spaces planted by my own hand, and I wonder if it is the echo long distant of youthful refuge and a feeling of safety that drives this regret, as though an older man, proud in his world, still needs, or knows he will soon need, a grounded spot in the weedy grass under the trees to hide in.