The Big Yellow House

I live in what is locally referred to as the Big Yellow House.

An affordable house for self-employed artists because it’s in the middle of nowhere, because the house was so run down, with foundation and roofing issues, with a downstairs bathroom that my British mother in law briskly described as something out of a crack house.

The Pond

But the last few years, my gaze has shifted to the back of the property, which juts out over a large pond.

Along the pond a tangled trail runs through the woods, crossing a small bridge and wending through the forest to the south. 

Forgotten Garden

But to make your way to the path through the woods, you must pass through the forgotten garden I’ve been discovering, and slowly restoring.

Andy, my husband, was a widower when I met him. The house we live in was his first wife’s dream house. She died of breast cancer not long after they bought the rambling dilapidated place. She didn’t live long enough to do much, just some mad gardening in her final months.

Trying to tackle what she had left behind, I discovered the remains of much older gardens on the property, hidden in high grasses and trees. The house dates back to the late 1700s and was a working farm on an “ice” pond.

Walking Through Dappled Light

An Acadian road ran through the property, now the little trail in the woods. For much of the 20th century, an eccentric widow lived in the house named Mrs. Herbert D’Arcy Johnson. In addition to her legendary eccentricity, she was apparently one of the first “lady horticulturalists” in Nova Scotia. She died in the 1970s. 

Just after we got married, my father died, my father in law died, our cat died, and my mother was going blind. I felt surrounded by demise at every turn. I’ve been walking through the dappled light of the woods, so many missteps as I make on my way through fields, on a woodland path along a cliff by the  ocean, but I keep taking steps, some times faltering and sometimes sauntering, and other times stepping in perfect rhythm.

This is Not a Gardening Story

This is not so much a gardening story, but a story of how uncovering this garden, at the edge of the pond, has forced me to reckon with my own mortality. I thought at first that I could restore the lives and dreams of other people but really what has been happening is that I’ve been restoring myself. 

I didn’t know any of this until I started finding parts of her garden, overgrown and forgotten, like her. I thought of all of this as a memory garden, the memories of others. And then one day out there in the blasting hot sun, when I tripped and tumbled over the edge of the stone wall into the garden at the bottom.

Missteps and Broken Pieces

I lay there, realizing that it’s actually my own memories I’m encountering out there. That in the end, life is just an ephemeral garden of memories, a paradise we create with missteps, a paradise created as we bring together the broken pieces, and as in the Japanese art of Kintsugi, mending broken pottery with a gold lacquer, not hiding the breakage in disguise as something new. The philosophy of Wabi-sabi, to embrace the imperfect, the flawed, the broken–the scars are simply a testimony to the past, evidence of our history, evidence of both survival and of healing. 

The back property used to fill me with dread. I mostly saw unpredictability and fragility. Living on the edge of wilderness, seeing the wonders and tragedies of nature, our humanity was constantly reflected back. And it felt so harsh. But these days it’s become more of oasis of beauty, hope and resiliency. 

The Gathering Basket

What Matters

Nature in your face 24/7 forces a reckoning with yourself. I grew up running wild in the woods and on the shore, not so much conscious of this world but a part of it. Somewhere through the years, I lost that sense. It was as though a bridge broke, and I stood on the other side.

Our creaky house, the forgotten garden, pieces we have brought together to create this paradise of our lives, a paradise broken and mended, broken and healed, the scars perhaps the most beautiful. What matters is how we invest in each day and in the people we love, how we bring these pieces together, the surprise at how they take on a magical new form. 

Gather Ye Brown Eyed Susies

While Ye May

My life, broken pieces, fragments, now fit together, all the seams and mends visible, but a cohesive whole. Christy Ann Conlin holding brown eyed susan flowers