I discovered a delightful surprise a few days ago and decided it would be a great topic for my first blog of the summer.
To my surprise, June passed without my blogging even once. In the last seven years I never skipped a month of blogging and skipping June feels like the equivalent of ditching a final exam— uncomfortable! But there are times when your brain is too tired to do extra stuff. The school year exhausts me as a parent, and by June 14, I was going on fumes. So I read and rested and did stuff with my kiddos. Now, suddenly it’s almost mid-July. But the funny thing about blogging is that it’s there when you’re ready to return. If you do it just for fun, as I do, you don’t have an impatient editor breathing down your neck, so you can return to it when you feel inspired. And a few days ago I became inspired.
On Saturday morning I was out walking and I discovered something amazing. I was in the Bay Area for the wedding of Ian and Maia, one of my closest friends. That morning I took a walk, looking for Robson-Harrington Park, which I’d found on my phone. When I walked into the park, I was very surprised to see irregular brick walls undulating up a hillside. What was this? It looked abandoned, and I was intrigued. Immediately I thought of a book my daughter is reading this summer, The Secret Garden. It’s one of my favorites, a book I’ve read at least twenty times. In the book, a sad little girl finds the key to a garden that has been locked for a decade. She spends months working in the garden and this strengthens her body and her soul. Although the brick walls of the garden I found were not behind a locked gate, the garden still felt like a secret discovery because I hadn’t expected it.
The bricks were old and they had ceramic decoration laid into the walls. A few things were growing, like artichoke plants, each topped with colorful purple spikes. It was a surprising sign of life in a spot that looked like it hadn’t been touched in years.
I had to know more. I kept wandering through the labyrinth of brick walls, and soon discovered that there were garden plots full of living things. It was a community garden. There were sunflowers, leeks, succulents, fruit trees, tomatoes, roses, grapes, squash and flowers of every color. I saw daisies as small as a fingernail and dahlias as large as melons. Beyond the garden, redwood trees soared into the sky. Simultaneously I felt a sense of peace and excitement. This isn’t breaking news, but being in nature is tremendously healing. Surrounded by things that grow, I felt soothed and renewed.
Soon I saw two people working in one of the gardens. I asked about the walled areas that looked abandoned and one gardener said that these areas had been orchards at one point. In many ways, this garden seemed like something created in another time. It didn’t feel like a new project, plotted with square corners and precision. It felt like it grew right out of the hillside with its curved walls, irregular twisting paths and natural flow.
Discovering the garden recharged me. The day before I’d been a mess of nerves, stewing about the past and anxious about the future. So finding the garden that morning was wonderful timing. The plants were just doing what plants do, but being around growing things gave me a sense of hope. It made me feel stronger about things that had been troubling me. Gardens begin from tiny seeds—things that only need a little bit of water and sun to grow strong—and finding the secret garden made me feel stronger, too. (Thank you, garden.)
After I left the garden, I walked through the winding roads of San Anselmo. It was a quiet, hot July morning. I sweated and walked, sweated and walked. Wisteria vines tumbled over fences and there was a tree house nestled into tall redwood trees. Eventually I found my way back to the Air BnB we rented and before all my observations left me, I wrote notes about the garden on a paper plate, as I hadn’t brought writing paper with me when I packed. (If you bring paper on a trip, you may not feel inspired. If you don’t bring paper on your trip, you’ll have a blog post write itself in your head while you walk, and you’ll find a paper plate at the rental studio and you’ll lay on the comfy rental bed, sweating, with the fan on, and you’ll write, write, write because the ideas are flowing.)
My time in the garden helped me summon the courage later that day to get up in front of 120 wedding guests and give a tearful toast to one of my closest friends for the last 32 years. I didn’t wait until I felt 100% ready—that will never happen!—but I decided that if I walked toward the microphone, I’d do it. Getting to the microphone was harder than the talking part. I got choked up but I kept going, because close friends are gifts, and honoring a close friend on her wedding day is worth pushing myself.
What a meaningful weekend it was, being with Maia on her wedding day. And finding a community garden by chance—and finding strength in that surprise garden. Funny, I suppose you could find strength anyplace. Maybe you could find courage in a 7-11, or in a junk yard. In a dirty public bathroom. Anywhere! Maybe it just takes something kind of random to give you the extra push you need.
I’m so glad that my wandering walk took me to a place that inspired me, surprised me, and strengthened me. We all need that, and discovering it by accident makes the gift even more meaningful because it’s almost like the solution finds you. Maybe a lot of answers to problems can be found in gardens (or maybe it’s that my brain stops squawking at me in gardens and allows the answer to come to the surface). Funny, isn’t it? You fret and worry and plan and scheme and come up empty-handed. And when you’re least expecting it, the answers find you…