Creating a picture perfect postcard reality, snow fell like manna from heaven on Christmas night in my town. Turning my porch light on, I looked out the screen door onto the street, in disbelief. I couldn’t remember the last time reality aligned with a dream. “A White Christmas”, the way it should be or so says the song. I slept well that night knowing that all was as it should be.
The next morning I decided to give myself a permission slip, or term I coined for the occasion, the “Get Out of Jail Free” card. The nature of the card entitled the bearer, me, to a guilt-free solo excursion to a destination that would, hopefully, inspire and/or restore. I decided to go big. I crossed the street. I went to the Greenhouse Gardens at Reynolda House. Composing years, with and without company, I have been comforted by the turning of the seasons in the gardens, but never with a camera in my hand.
Beginning slowly, I pulled the camera to my eye. It has been years since I have taken pictures of anything other than my children, holidays, or family events. Feeling self-conscious, I looked around to see if anyone was looking at me and found only a man operating a snowplow. I began snapping a few shots of the landscape. Boring, yawn, not worth much. I determined their value lied only in the process of warming up my eye. Moving on, I found myself stooping to contort my body to reach for an image. Time and place fell away as I began focusing on the smallest of ice crystals and snowflakes clinging to evergreens, berries, and fences, amazed at the reflections and layers of the conservatory’s glass siding. Loosening with every shutter click, I kept my visual secrets hidden inside my camera, kept warm by in my pocket. I did not even consider the thought that a nice little picture might come from my efforts. Engulfed in the moment, before I could stop myself, I had done something I hadn’t done in, well, I don’t know how long. I had marveled!
Hope magnetically pulls me forward. I’ve lived through enough seasons to know the snow of yesterday melts, the sun warms and rose buds bloom. Out of shear habit, I know these things to be true. However, the past, for all of us that have one, know it is just a step behind. Transposing layers of doubt and remorse, I saw the memory of purple Jackmanaii clematis and yellow Carolina jasmine growing on the arbor over the bench where an eternal promise, gasping for air, was resuscitated with a kiss. And looking down, hidden under the snow, lay the leaf-strewn path I walked on, grieving the promise’s final death.
I looked to the glass walls of the greenhouse reflecting the frozen wonderland around me. I turned the icy metal doorknob and it was locked. Trying to see through the condensation, I cupped my face with my hands and pressed my nose on the cold glass. I recognized the undulating edges on the white petals of the “June Bride” orchid. The one whose heady, perfumed breath I would draw in only once per visit, forcing myself to savor the ephemeral moment.
Like a phantom limb needing to be scratched, I realized that something was missing. I had unknowingly been expecting the one-eared garden cat to come purring up to me. Emerging from the peony hedge for her visitor, she would draw close to me and then arch her back, turn away to rub her alabaster side on the column of the garden house. I sensed the tension between her tame notions and feral instincts. Crazy cat.
Exhaling, I closed my eyes to beautiful, haunting images of my children when they were very young and small. In this same flowery maze, there was once a small, cotton-tailed rabbit that was chased by a band of small children yelling “Peter!Peter!” who were attempting to invoke the spells of Beatrix Potter, with a fretful mother trailing behind, yelling “Don’t run through the…”. These words fell on deaf ears, but the vibrant imaginations of children who swore they saw Peter’s blue jacket with brass buttons caught between the cabbages in the Children’s Garden.
Another flash of a memory went through my mind. In the Rose Garden only thorns and leaves slept under a dusty blanket of snow, but I remembered how my children, carefully balancing on tiptoe with chins turned to the summer sun, would smell and compare the beauty and scent of each rose. They were competing to choose the perfect specimen that was their victory and triumph over the other’s choice. The sun, lost shoes and barefoot toes on the grassy path, the intensity of the color of the roses…the ingredients of memories will remain a mystery to me. Laughing at our collected delight of simply living in the moment, in another season, the gardens found me again.
And surveying the entire garden, beyond the greenhouse, out into the woods, I saw an image of myself running on the trails, on my pace, wiping the sweat from my forehead with the back of my hand. My trail runs have been a time of deep solace for me, when all I can hear is the rhythmic pouncing of my feet and fast breath. Looking through my mind’s lens, I saw a woman who was strong, pushing forward, shedding loss and regret, exchanging the smooth prize for the rough puzzle.
I am glad I came with my camera that day.