Jan 23, 2011

The Lessons of Impermanence

Little did I know that the young girl who grew up reading her mother’s House and Garden magazines would one day spend her days in a garden worthy of the cover of the magazine. As I contemplate my last week in the garden where I spent twelve enchanting falls and twelve long winters, where I spent eleven magical springs and eleven summers, I realize that I have spent a third of my life at Lakewold.

I grew up in valley surrounded by forests, adventuring on horseback through the magical, thousand-acre wood behind my home. Memories of primitive forests filled with sword ferns and firs shaped what lay ahead. My mother, a painter, would paint delicious portraits of flowers. I would follow her, but instead of painting canvas, I would paint flowers quite literally. I belonged among the flowers... a ripeness that has always called to me.

As I think back on my eleven years at Lakewold, I realize that I know the gardens as well as I know myself. Every branch and stone, every slope and valley, the way the garden comes to life each year, I know these like my own face. Some days, when the skies were filled with rain, and I did not want to rug up and head out to the garden, I did anyway, knowing there would be something to delight. Even if it was just the outline of a tree, the garden always rewarded me. When the witch hazels began to bloom and the snowdrops peeked out of the forest’s duff, I knew that spring was near. When the scented purple flowers of the Paulonia opened, I knew that summer had arrived. When the cyclamen bloomed, I knew that fall was coming. Because of Lakewold, I better know the rhythms of nature, the subtleties of the color green, the many ways that light reflects off the texture of a leaf, the way that weather moves through the sky. I also know what Mrs. Wagner must have felt as, each day, she walked into the garden.

Mrs. Wagner spent five decades at Lakewold. I spent slightly more than one. To think about how the garden changed me helps me understand why Mrs. Wagner left the garden to the community. She could not part with it. Through a gift, she was able to remain at Lakewold. I am saying good-bye to Lakewold, but in so many ways I am not leaving either. The gardens are a major part of who I am: I became an adult at Lakewold; I married at Lakewold; I met and made many dear friends at Lakewold; I became a leader at Lakewold; and I learned lessons of impermanence and patience at Lakewold. A faithful gardener knows that garden is anything but permanent. Without care, it can rather quickly go back to the wild. And even the most well laid plans take years to bear fruit. A garden teaches you about cycles of loss and renewal, and about the true potency of life.

When I leave Lakewold, I will leave part of myself behind. My rhythms are so deeply connected to hers; I will have to reinvent myself when I leave Lakewold. I have changed the garden, and it has changed me. Just as the woods behind my childhood home shaped my choices, so have the majestic firs of Lakewold matured me. I cannot wait to see where my new path leads me, and I thank Mrs. Wagner for the gift of Lakewold, for sharing this beautiful garden with me.

The poetry of Mary Oliver has always brought me comfort in times of change. Like Lakewold, Oliver—the poet of nature--has taught me to be a quiet observer. I come to her again at this time of change in my life. As I leave Lakewold, I trust that, like the little butterfly, I will find many places to rest and to listen and to taste the world.

One or Two Things (from Dream Works)


Don’t bother me.

I’ve just

been born.


The butterfly’s loping flight

carries it through the country of the leaves

delicately, and well enough to get it

where it wants to go, wherever that is, stopping

here and there to fuzzle the damp throats

of flowers and the black mud; up

and down it swings, frenzied and aimless, and sometimes

for long delicious moments it is perfectly

lazy, riding motionless in the breeze on the soft stalk

of some ordinary flower.


The god of dirt

came up to me many times and said

so many wise and delectable things, I lay

on the grass listening

to his dog voice,

crow voice,

frog voice, now,

he said, and now,

and never once mentioned forever,


which has nevertheless always been,

like a sharp iron hoof,

at the center of my mind.


One or two things are all you need

to travel over the blue pond, over the deep

roughage of the trees and through the stiff

flowers of lightening—some deep

memory of pleasure, some cutting

knowledge of pain.


But to lift the hoof!

For that you need

an idea.


For years and years I struggled

just to love my life. And then

the butterfly

rose, weightless, in the wind.

“Don’t love your life

too much,” it said,

and vanished

into the world.


cory said...

Thank you for sharing. I can't wait to hear about your next adventure!

vickie Haushild said...

That was really beautiful, Katie. I understand everything you said and felt. We'll miss you.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Beautiful writing, Kate!

One Love Photo said...

Just lovely! I love the way you write. I am so excited for you, I can't believe it was 11 years I thought it was 8! You've been in our thoughts this week, I hope all is going well! Love you!