Cultivate Your Secret Garden

Through childish curiosity I discovered--by accident--my secret garden. As a young girl I hopped on my bike, rode a mile or so through my St. Paul neighborhood, down graceful and beloved Summit Avenue to a cathedral arch of stately elms. Right there. That's when and where I faltered upon what would become my secluded spot: an exquisite turn-of-the-century Tudor mansion--uninhabited, but to me, abandoned.

Surrounding the tremendous estate was a wall of imposing brick rising seven or eight feet, and along the very back of it I found a small opening where I squeezed into my clandestine world. Overgrown lilacs and rhododendrons surrounded the yard and in the center of it was a large stone pool--about two feet deep--that must have housed a fountain or lily pond in its day.

I spent many schoolgirl afternoons and glistening, study-free, slow-moving summer days at my sanctuary. The grass was tall and gone to seed, and I'd sit on the ground between blades of sedge that tickled my neck and mingled with my hair. And though these images are what brought me to my hidden haven, it was the absolute silence of it--and that it was my place--that I remember most. I never told another soul about it, nor did I ever see another being there.

As I grew older, and when we moved from the neighborhood, I forgot all about my covert preserve. It was not until several years later, while sitting in a dark movie theatre--when I took my children to see The Secret Garden--that I was reminded of the countless sunlit afternoons I spent in the quiet of my greenhouse.

I believe the cliché that we're somehow wiser as children--we instinctively seek out such mysterious places where the soul can commune with itself. We grow up, mature, and nothing is simple anymore--we work hard at making sure of that. As an adult and especially as a parent, I've learned that a refuge, whether real or figurative, is absolutely essential to happiness and wellbeing.

Since that matinee, I've pledged to take and make time to go back to that spot, to once again nurture and cultivate my secret garden, the place I called my own, remembering to include all the experiences of beauty and peace I've known along the way. My mystic dwelling is where I embrace suspended moments in time: a morning pot of tea by a sunny window, an evening walk at sunset, a fire on a rainy day, or a favorite book. And some days it's where I write, or play music, and through it I enter a world of fulfillment.

Although quite often it's the solitude that's so healing, I've found solace in sharing my private refuge with others. On days I desperately wanted to be alone, I opened up the gate to my private world, giving part of it to my children, sheltering them from rainfall with verses of poetry. And even still, though they are adults, they'll occasionally request readings from me on a shivery stormy day, proving to me that my sanctuary kept them warm, too.

Much as it's crucial to psychologically escape, it's equally important to physically retreat. To discover a location of great natural magnificence, serene and inspiring, where the soul can be replenished, leaving a permanent imprint. And perhaps it can be found once again in a divine, turn-of-the-century, forlorn Tudor mansion.

The secret garden of my childhood is long gone, but like all such places, it lives on in my heart and memory--a reminder of what I still need. I can visit in a moment--feel the sun on my back and the grass blowing in my hair. In my spirit I can still hear the silence.

 
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