…….after closing time at 6PM, the beautiful gardens at the Crockerten Estate became silent and serene!…exactly the way that Frank Severford loved it. As one of the most senior gardeners and grounds keepers on the staff, he had his own particular ways and preferences. But who could blame him? He had presided over every square foot of the extensive acreage and the various buildings through wars, financial crises, foolish and pompous administrations, and well-meaning but blundering social busy-bodies trying to be oh-so-helpful with their bake-sales and fundraisers that ultimately ran into the red. The sun had just begun to dip behind the ancient oaks as he strolled through the topiary maze with his ever-ready rake in hand (the special hickory and polished steel rake that the Queen-Mother had gifted him in 1945 in honor of his covering all the miles of greenhouse glass with burlap against the bombing raids!). He had lost an argument with the board of directors over the height of the boxwoods in the maze many years before; he had wanted to make the solid walls of the labyrinth 6’ high to increase the mystery and suspense of actually entering the maze, but the board members had decided to “play it safe”, especially for their “nice suburban visitors and their children” by making the height of the hedges no more than 4’, easy enough for anyone to see over and figure out how to maneuver the puzzle. Frank made it plain though that with such short boxwoods, the more boorish of the visitors would try to step over or merely push their way through his carefully trained, fed, nurtured, and manicured greenery to short-cut their stampeding ways to the snack bars, the souvenir shops, or the parking lots…. And sure enough! That’s exactly what they did…trampling through his children…because that’s really what he felt about them. About them all. There wasn’t a sprouting crocus bulb in March, a new shoot on the winding wisterias, or a bronzing leaf on the red maples in October that wasn’t his child. Everything in the vast gardens was alive, intensely alive and conscious, and aware of him and his care. Frank edited himself and his conversations as much as he could in the presence of both the board members and his own co-workers. He knew they found his joyous highs and worried concerns strangely obsessive…and often off-putting. He tried to keep all his interactions professional and detached, even as his heart might break at the sight of a broken iris or a stand of trampled lilies of the valley. But now, at 6-ish, (what Frank considered his “tea time” with his floral family gathered and nodding around him!), he was aglow. And so was every living citizen in his world. For this was Frank’s favorite time of the day. He tried unsuccessfully to show people the amazing trick of the evening light radiating from flowers and foliage alike as the sun began its withdrawal. Every petal of every flower would seem to vibrate with left-over color burning with a fire of its own…from within the flower itself, independent of the sun and its light. And the leaves! On every tree and bush, every vine…even the velvety grasses of the rolling lawns. As the sun slid farther down behind the hills, every shade of green (and there were thousands of them!) shimmered! Even the lichens and mosses became living jades and emeralds. With his cup of Earl Grey tea in one hand and his beloved rake in the other, Frank would sometimes stand dead-still staring at a single verdant leaf on an echinecea bobbing gently in the evening breeze while the tiny ruby of a ladybug scurried by ….and presumably home. Frank would chuckle to himself even through his tears…. tears at how heartbreaking beauty can be, how joyful and deeply humbling. And how much he himself resembled that little ladybug, filled with its own daily concerns, finishing its chores, consumed by its own perceptions, hopes, joys, and perhaps sorrows. Unaware of the giant gardener peering down at its lovely design and motion. Unaware of the giant gardener and the deep compassion and mercy, and the truest expression of love, given with no expectation of thanks or even of acknowledgement. Frank moved languidly through the winding maze, enjoying every turn both towards and away from the ultimate solution (and exit), not rushing, but savoring the elaborate design and the multiple possibilities, the criss-crossing paths, the sharp turns, the soft curves; many, many choices to be made, but again, all leading to the same final place…the exit from the maze... and the entrance to the magnificent greenhouse with its long reflecting pool, the still, perfectly straight flower beds and paths, symmetrical and laid out with quiet wisdom and balance, and the only sound being the soft trickling of the water… from an unseen fountain. As beautiful as this last greenhouse was, Frank always felt a sadness when he moved to this final station in the vast gardens. Even being inside was encumbering after the magnificence of the outdoors, and its uncertainty, its unpredictability, its necessarily wildness of weather and wild-LIFE. As much as Frank appreciated the reasoned beauty of the glass and steel and the protection it offered his beloved plants, it was the open sky and all that it looked down on that filled him with the deepest highs and lows, perhaps because “out there” he knew that all life, all EVERYTHING was so very vulnerable, so tentative, so “of-the-moment”. He put down his cup on a stone shelf, the rich tea half-finished. He rested his precious rake against the wall, brushing his fingers one more time over the polished grain of the hickory. And he walked slowly and deliberately down the right side of the reflecting pool, drinking in with his eyes and ears, his entire being, every single leaf, every blossom, the gliding fish swirling back and forth, up to the surface to sparkle like scattered gold, and back down into the deep of the darkening water. He walked, each step measured and deliberate, on and on… watching and listening…. And on, through the door….
[Want to read other fun and funny stories here on SybilSez.com? Just enter any topic that pops into your head in the "search" window on the upper right! Who knows what might come up?...and feel free to share them with your friends!]