By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
We are talking about dreams. We are sitting on the back patio in Popie Mohring's garden, between an ocean of gray stones and a river of blue, with a two-foot high Mount Olympus at our feet and a caragana tree casting its shadow over the crest of the mountain. The tree--at just over five feet, taller than Popie--is a weeping form. The clouds that rolled in last night, she tells me in her trace Greek accent, were weeping too, around midnight, and the caragana's pendulous branches are still wet and heavy this morning.
"Now I will tell you the story of how Popie's dream told her to bring that tree into this strange garden," she says, lighting the next of what will be a dozen cigarettes by noon. She closes her eyes, a few seconds of silence set in, and then the dream: "It was three, four years ago when I first saw a picture of the caragana. I said to myself, 'Popie, you cannot have that, it is too much and you would be crazy for such a thing.' I thought I should just shoot myself in the head for wanting. And then myself said back, 'Ah, but it is beautiful.' So the debate, back and forth, between what is practical and what is desire. The old, mortal debate. Always, it never ends. So I went to sleep. And in my dream, I began walking through a wood of caraganas."
Popie jumps up from her chair in a cloud of smoke and a does a quick little dance, arms akimbo, acting her dream-self out. "Then I was dancing. 'Oh,' I said in this dream, 'What satisfaction!' And the caraganas started talking to me. I said, 'You cannot do that, you are plants. You are not supposed to speak.' But they interrupted, 'We don't just talk to anybody. But we will talk to you.' What a stunning image the mind has spit out, I thought when I woke up. And so, one caragana came to this garden. It lives now in this landscape created by many dreams. It is like in the ancient mythologies, I think--the mind doesn't just wander around in sleep without a purpose. It wants to bring back shapes and angles, golden ratios, oceans, mountains--it wants to make order out of chaos. It seems to be this: It wants to dream up stories."
Weeping caragana trees speaking is to Popie the most usual thing in the world--an unremarkable occurrence, like having a conversation with the mailman, or the oracle at Delphi, or her dead grandfather (which happens often in her garden). Her garden, which fills the 30- by 300-foot lot where she lives just east of the river in Minneapolis, is not, by conventional measure, a garden at all. It is not laid in neat rows. It grows no edible herbs or vegetables, and is not, by that measure, especially practical. It is a garden that grew out of the argument between practicality and desire, in which desire won. And Popie's desire, when she first broke earth in 1991, was to make in her lot a narrative, a personal myth in which all the essential figures of her life--her children and their children, her friends scattered around the globe, her gods and their messengers--would be represented and close by. It is a symbolic oasis, populated by stones and plants that stand in for the dead and the living and that tells, as a whole, the intimate chronicle of her life, beginning in 1926 in a small Greek village called Schimatari near the Mediterranean sea, and is still without end, 70 years later, on the edge of a city that was meant to be just another station along her odyssean trip.
She turns her gaze back from the caragana, leans in, and says with amusement,"'What is that dream Popie had?' I ask this to myself, often when I wake up in the dark. Well, I will show you what that is. Come on. Let's go and walk through the garden and see what that masterful piece of engineering--the mind!--has dreamed up for my body to break its back over."
I know a pine tree that leans over near a sea, the Nobel-prize winning Greek poet George Seferis once wrote. In the evening the wind blowing through its needles begins a curious song, as though of souls that have made an end of death. On the boulevard strip, where Popie's garden begins, is a small island made of soil. It is surrounded by a lake of raked gravel, where fountains of wild grass shoot up all summer until frost kills the spray. The island floats on stone waves, in the shade of an old oak. This is where Popie--a nickname for Kalliope, the Greek muse of epic poetry--was born. It's inhabited now by her children, set out in stone along the shoreline, and her paternal grandfather, who stands against the wind in the form of a bonsai pine tree .Every pine tree in the garden stands for Popie's dead grandfather, and there is one at nearly every turn.