“The place is a wilderness…”

the cream beauties

A few days away, at the Galiano Literary Festival. It was such a privilege to be invited, to be hosted by Louise De Cario and Brian Mitchell in their lovely seaside home (with a studio filled with Brian’s paintings), to be included in the readings held at the Galiano Inn with its flowering rosemary and comfortable chairs, and to have the opportunity to meet some old friends and to make some new ones too. We walked out to Bellhouse Park at one point and I noticed that everything was a week or two ahead of us at home — the miners lettuce already sporting its second sets of leaves (and even third sets on some plants), the ubiquitous broom coming into bloom. At Brian and Louise’s, their greengage plum was ready to flower, a few buds opening in sunlight.

But as always, a pleasure to return home. This morning, a hard frost, but the sky is clear and blue, and when I went out to wander my garden (in my nightdress!), I was filled with that sense that it’s time. Time to weed, time to plant (inside…), time to shake off winter and welcome the light. Because it’s here! Moonlight last night, starlight. Time to tidy the leaves away from the chives, to air the blankets, to think about tidying the garden shed and cleaning the tools. I opened Pleasures of the Garden: a Literary Anthology to encourage these feelings of possibility (because after all, it can still snow, and even though I promised myself during last summer’s drought that I would never ever complain about rain again, there will be lots of it) and found myself reading Tao Yuanming’s poem about his own beloved garden:

The place is a wilderness;

But there is an old pine-tree and my chrysanthemums.

Wine is brought in full bottles, and I pour it out in brimming cups.

I gaze out at my favourite branches.

I wonder if I’d love our place half as much if it wasn’t a wilderness? The view of Mount Hallowell behind us, dusted with new snow? The Douglas firs and cedars (no pines, alas) below the house framing the view to the west, the cascara with its lichen-crusted branches to the south, next to the arbutus that is filled with warblers when it flowers. The salal. And what we’ve planted grown large over the years — the crabapples, wisterias, forsythias I let arch over like fountains, roses, the grapes.

I pluck chrysanthemums by the eastern fence

And see the distant southern mountains.

The mountain air is fresh at dusk.

Flying birds return in flocks.

In these things there lies a great truth,

But when I try to express it, I cannot find the words.

rhubarb shoots (and leaves)