The first time my sister typed “OBE” in an email to me, I thought she was referring to the Order of the British Empire. But, though she is an anglophile, it made no sense in context. Turns out, OBE is shorthand for “overtaken by events,” i.e., the situation changed quickly and routed my plans and/or my routine.
I think we all know what living in that OBE space can feel like — jarring, chaotic, harried, pushed and pulled. That’s my life the last three weeks or so. I had planned a 4-day vacation to Boothbay, ME, in early June; a 24-hour wedding getaway with a best friend and her fab family in Portsmouth, NH, in late June; a short visit from two beloved college friends in early July; and a 5-day vacation to northern NH in mid July (a birthday gift for my fly-fishing spouse), with a lot of gardening, admiring-of-the-garden-from-the-patio, some light reading, and my regular weekly group meetings slated for in between.
That seemed like enough, just perfect really, but then I threw in a big garden party during my friends’ visit, and I had tossed at me another 4-day getaway (to Ogunquit, ME) in mid-June due to spouse’s need to use vacation time by 1 July, and, sadly (and within 12 hours of returning from that Ogunquit trip), a quick trip — as quick as a 19-hour round-trip drive, with 36 hours between drives, can be — to visit my spouse’s mother, who is suddenly — as suddenly as this can happen at age 86 — in hospice. Though miraculous healing may occur, we are realistically expecting another trip for her funeral in days to weeks.
So I’m living in the very tentative and tenuous land of OBE at the moment, doing laundry more than usual to make sure we have what we need when we are called away, keeping less perishable food in the house than normal for the same reason, all the while cleaning the house and patio, menu-planning, list-making, researching how to run a gin tasting, prepping for the friends’ visit and the party on Friday, which may or may not occur.
The root of suffering is resisting the certainty that no matter what the circumstances, uncertainty is all we truly have.” ― Pema Chödrön, Comfortable with Uncertainty
While in this changeable, more-uncertain-than-usual-feeling sort of space, though I do feel frenzied, I am also aware that I want to keep in touch with the option to relax and let what arises simply arise. Life is not certain, it’s always in flux, and we never really know what will happen next, though we may plan and mark things on our calendars; so times like this, when the rug is pulled out from under us, are a good reminder of reality.
As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, we feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We deserve something better than resolution: we deserve our birthright, which is prajna, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.” ― Pema Chödrön, Comfortable with Uncertainty
In the midst of quickly changing situations, my own and others’ expectations, stops and starts, it feels important to me to replenish my energy, keep myself calm but awake, with a focus on what’s important. For me, what’s important is beauty, and beauty of nature above all. And the means to these other ends – energy replenishment, calm alertness, focus — include as much “alone” time as I can get, ample and intense physical activity, writing, connections with friends in small doses.
So I am taking a little time from cleaning and planning today (as the washing machine and dryer are going full tilt) to write this.
“In a garden we have indeed left the real world and entered the world of fantasy and make-believe, where nature, under the control of art, gives pleasure and rest and escape from today’s worries.”– Humphrey Carver
Last week, in the midst of our visit to my mother-in-law, we took time between our visits with her to return to a place of great beauty, a sort of home garden for me (yeah, I wish!), to re-focus us and give us a space and some time to realign, reflect, allow our five senses to absorb the vibrations of greens, of bloom and berry, of water’s healing sound, the scent of a mid-Atlantic summer. In essence, to meditate.
Longwood Gardens is a healing place for me, a necessary kind of place in the midst of chaos, a reminder that there is a natural order, that living and dying are ordinary and inextricably intertwined, that the rain falls and the sun shines on all of us regardless of our planning, our feelings, our contrived belief that we are in control.
The way some people feel about family — a reassurance that there was life before them and that it will go on long after they’re gone, deep joy in being part of the web — I feel about the aesthetic beauty of the natural world. I love my family and my friends — and yet, I feel pulled most of the time to appreciate the beauty of nature, of art, of art & nature best of all. It’s mediation for me, the “now” of each flower, plant, leaf, fruit, design, landscape, edge, blur of colour, space between, mark made on the earth canvas.
“I wonder how it is we have come to this place in our society where art and nature are spoken in terms of what is optional, the pastime and concern of the elite?” ― Terry Tempest Williams, Leap
I’ve visited Longwood Gardens many times. On this particular, very hot (heat index in the low 100s) late June day, my enthusiasm was for the waterlilies, as always, and especially for the new trial gardens, 26 beds, each with a different combination of from three to eight plants, chosen by Longwood staff from a list of over 160 plant species and cultivars. Visitors can vote for their favourites, but I didn’t. I took photos of my favourites, which were the two prairie gardens, and of other interesting combinations.
“Gardens are the result of a collaboration between art and nature.” – Penelope Hobhouse
The Trial Gardens
Prairie Sunset Garden:
Painted Meadow Garden:
The other trial gardens:
I also enjoyed walking the meadow paths again, even in the heat,
and during a delicious cafe lunch of salads outside on the terrace, watching two squirrels mating. Yes — that was the lunchtime entertainment!
Over in the vegetable gardens, the martins were feeding their young in the gourd nests:
So many Eastern Amberwing dragonflies were flitting over the ponds near the Italian gardens:
Even the gigantic construction zone for the main fountains (opening Spring 2017) has a certain enchantment born of mystique, proportion, history, machine beauty:
And then there were fruits and berries:
“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.” ― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac with Other Essays on Conservation from Round River
The gardens provided both a beautiful escape and deepening awakening and openness to what is on a day when I needed it.