The sun is just inching over distant hills as I snuggle deeper under my blanket and sip my coffee. I like the dark quiet of early morning, but it’s always a thrill to see the sky brighten and know that our shivery little world will soon be filled with light and warmth.
Bear and I like to listen to audio books while we drive. There’s something about sharing a story that builds bridges and strengthens bonds, providing a shared point of reference for future conversations. Usually we just pick up stories from the library – stories we’ve never heard of – and give them a whirl. But sometimes I share the stories of my childhood (or adult childhood) with Bear, the ones I grew up with, ones that shaped so much of who I am. Narnia, Harry Potter, Brambly Hedge, Little House on the Prairie, Lord of the Rings, Anne of Green Gables, Miss Fisher Mysteries, Agatha Christie, anything and everything by John Buchan. The list is endless, for books have always been my lifeline, my solace and escape, my inspiration and guiding light.
Recently we listened to “The Secret Garden” – one of my most cherished stories. Bear had never read it before, and when it was over he looked at me and said, “This story means a lot to you, doesn’t it? What is your secret garden?”
His questions made me teary, because six years ago, Bear brought me home, broken, shattered in body and spirit, and asked me to close my eyes as he walked me through the farm yard. He guided me in the gate, through fallen leaves and past his work sheds, until he stopped and said, “Open your eyes.”
He’d built me gardens. Two of them. They had sturdy fences to keep the goats out, lovely big terracotta pots full of potting soil, plots dug up and ready for planting, iron bark planks to walk on, and even a worm farm so I could feed the soil. He hugged me tight and said, “They’re yours. Do whatever you want with them.”
Bear hoped he was giving me something that would be meaningful, but he had no idea how precious that gift was. He hoped the gardens would be something that would help me heal, that would provide a place just for me where I could work through what needed working through, and figure out who I was, what I believed, thought, felt, and loved.
We laugh about them now, because, in the beginning, those gardens were the bane of my life. You see, when I arrived in Australia, when my body knew I was safe, loved, and cared for, it decided to let go. To stop hanging on for dear life, to stop living in fight or flight, and to just go ahead and crumple. I crashed. Oh how I crashed. Depression and PTSD hit me like a freight train, I was sick – so sick, I packed on weight, every night was an agony of nightmares, and the thought of interacting with other human beings was so terrifying I could barely function. I wanted to stay safe and quiet in the house with Bear and the rest of the world could go to buggery.
But those bloody gardens had to be watered. And weeded. And looked after. Bear had put so much effort and love into those dratted gardens, that I just couldn’t let them wither away.
So every day I dragged my depression-fogged self out of the house and sprayed water on plants I didn’t care about and pulled weeds – at least I thought they were weeds – and tried to keep things alive. I was a horrible gardener. Somehow the inate gardening skills that brightened the lives of my brother, mother, aunts, and grandparents had failed to illuminate mine. I killed more things than I harvested. I couldn’t tell the difference between weeds and actual plants. I didn’t know fruit trees went dormant each winter, so every year I pulled up the “dead” fruit trees and grape vines and threw them away.
But I kept going and Bear never intervened. Not once. Bear and I love working together. We build fences and drench goats and make hams and brew wine, but to him my gardens were sacred spaces, and he never entered unless invited. He’s a brilliant gardener and knows all about soil and compost and mulching and pruning, but he let me muddle through and make a spectacular mess of things and figure it out for myself.
It was the best thing he could’ve done, and slowly but surely things changed. As my soul and mind healed, I started caring about the gardens. Instead of looking after them out of duty, I began to genuinely be interested. I wanted to understand plants and learn what helped them thrive. I started composting and making comfrey nettle tea to build up the soil and make it healthy. I began mulching so the plants could endure the harsh heat of summer. I stopped pulling out “dead” fruit trees, and, lo and behold, those dry sticks were covered in buds and leaves in spring.
I love my gardens now. Truly. And I thank them often for bearing with me when I was such a horrible caretaker. I’m grateful gardens are such forgiving things, waiting patiently, soldiering on through drought and neglect until we’re ready to love them. How they flourish when we love them.
As we listened to “The Secret Garden”, a sentence leaped out at me that I hadn’t noticed before. It was about Archibald Craven who was trekking through the Alps in a place so beautiful “it would lift any man’s soul out of shadow.”
Out of shadow.
How I love that.
I’m not in shadow anymore. Now and then I have shadow days or shadow moments, but that enveloping darkness is gone. I still have the occasional nightmare, but I can wake myself up now and speak truth to dissipate the fear. I’m still overweight, but I’m strong and active and healthy, and I know the weight will come off when it’s ready. I still have bouts of anxiety, but I have good people and thriving gardens I can turn to for solace and strength. I am grateful.
What beauties in your life help lift your soul out of shadow? xo