The wind is fierce as it blows the door shut behind me. My parent’s home is surrounded by nature. When I step outside I'm reminded of the contrast between my world growing up here in Honey Brook, and my life in Baltimore, where I cannot go outside or feel nature in any capacity but a small balcony, and the whoosh of cars on the avenue block out any birds that happen to roost in the sole tree in our complex. My gratitude for Honey Brook brings a smile to my face as the chill breeze and the sun's warmth alternate on my skin.
I begin with a walk through my mother's gardens, turning clockwise to walk across the patio and unlatch the gate. A statue of St. Francis of Asisi, characteristically cradling a small bird in his hands, overlooks the hillside garden, worn with 30+ years of sentry duty in the sun. The red rocks and mulch are dotted with large quartz and fieldstone, a plague to some in this farming county, but a beauty for us. I pass the depression of a pond we used to have, now filled in beyond much recognition except to we who remember. In my mind's eye, I see little me scooping tadpoles and trying to pet the mother frogs as a child. As I continue around the bend, passing nondescript blooms not yet visible, and brown, wintered bushes of plants even my mother forgets the name of, I pass a holly tree. In my mind it is still a small bush, but of course it's been over 30 years since it's planting. I am continually amazed how memory holds its shape regardless of reality. Here I pause to write in my journal.
The smells of the garden are that of cut grass, wind, and spring pollen. The indescribable scent of freshness, youth, blossoms. I make a mental note to open a window when I go back inside. I hear a background noise I’ve come to adore: “peepers”, a frog variety common here, coming from the southern neighbor’s pond. I hear countless bird species in “the Jungle” - my childhood name for the wooded area behind our home that scales the hill we live atop. The nearest road is below our home’s hillside expanse, at the base of the slope. I don’t hear a car at all on this walk; indeed in a day I only hear 1-5 since the stay-at-home order has been placed. It’s never loud ordinarily, but this is a particular treat nonetheless. Instead what I do hear a few times is the echoing, drifting clip-clop of a horse. As it nears I hear the accompanying clatter of a buggy, its metal wheels without shocks, and once a horse brays and snorts as it rounds the bend of our slope. Sometimes, I choke with a happy sob at the sound. It is invigorating to me, like the blustering wind that passes from north to south, or the thunderclap in the night. It is in harmony with nature and my soul, a sound I hear in the depths of my mind from my cacophonous Baltimore apartment when I cannot sleep. To hear it alive, is like a confirmation of a long-held suspicion, or to wake from a nightmare to see you’re actually home safe in your bed. “It is real, it wasn’t a dream, I’m home.”
In the years since I’ve lived here full-time, I’ve never stopped visiting it. And now that all five of us have returned, it is alive again. I feel the land breathing with each gust of wind that blows my journal pages up. I chuckle at the greeting, or prod, and rise from the path by the holly tree.
I continue the walk as it completes my sunwise circle of our home. I cross the parking pad, filled with our many cars from our many exterior lives, stoic beasts with no immediate purpose. I rejoin the path, and pass my favorite patch of the garden - the remnants of the herbs my mother planted when I was young. The soil here is fertile. A kind of fertile cursed by my gardening mother, and grandmother when she helped install these gardens in the ‘90s before her death in 2001. This was a farming paddock for untold years before the house was built, and the resting place for its animals when they passed. Their return to the earth has made growth unstoppable here. The herbs I pass are prolific mint, batches of lemon balm, and “weeds'' of wild violet, milk thistle, and speedwell. My mother had never planted any of them, and has meshed over, remulched, and even stone-covered these herbs countless times. And yet they continue to grow, and spread. The smell of fresh, country mint - as the variety is known here in Lancaster County, PA - is strong, empowering. The lemon balm melds with it in a vaporous scent that awakens and revives. But it is not just the smell and the feel that entices me. It’s that nature has persisted, insisted, that this part of the garden should be hers.
I go back into the house and grab a scissors and a strainer. I’m making mint tea today. I’ve seen, felt, heard, and inhaled the gardens today - the need to taste it is strong. I trim the tallest stalks of mint and fill the strainer, rubbing the leaves together in my hands to release the smell, a perfume that will stain my skin all day. I smile throughout this activity. It’s simple, but yields a great reward of hydration and purification. There’s no need for sugar, this mint is sweet. As I take a last look around the garden for the morning, I look over at the blooming cherry blossoms. I make a mental note to read below them today.