Yesterday, a friend came over. Our plan A had included a picnic in the Middlesex Fells, but the weather was chancy, so we opted for a shorter, more local walk. I offered to show my husband, friend and eldest son the hidden tunnel running under I93, where in former years a train had run, that is the future path of the Tri-Community Bikeway and currently home to a very talented set of artists.
We got there and marveled, but our feet felt light, my mother-in-law (the saint!) was home with Thane, and we had no deeds to do or promises to keep. I offered to take us home the long way or the short way. With a lazy Saturday afternoon in front of us, under overcast skies, we took the long way.
And so we walked. I have always, always loved going on walks. I fondly remember the Connecticut College Arboretum, and the green. I love evening walks, right before bed, in bitingly cold or fondly warm dark. I love daytime walks through seemingly familiar but unexpectedly new paths. I have a tendency to drag people through bush, briar and bramble long past the polite mark, explaining that we’ve come so far that the fastest way home is forward. Sometimes this is even true. But I confess, I have never tried this with my eldest. I know my weakness is to push people past when I’m tired, and I’m an indefatigable walker.
But the path stretched so freely in front of me, and the company was so congenial, I decided to begin teaching my five year old my love of walking adventures.
We stopped at McDonald’s for ice cream and coffee. We stopped at Woodcraft to admire all the possible ways to remove digits and daydream of lives with room for whittling. We ducked off the road to try to identify an old abandoned building, and then circled back to it. We quoted each other poetry, discussed programming design patterns and explained some small section of the world to Grey.
We were getting a bit tired, by the time we walked past the gate.
The poem on the door reads:
Welcome to the Cotton-Arbo retum;
Please do step inside.
Here you’ll find a peaceful respite
And a feast for weary eyes.
Weary from a world that’s become
Plentiful with neon signs,
Blaring out wherever you go,
Up ahead and from behind.
Now the chaos of a crowded garden
Overwhelming seems to be,
But once you center your attention
Focus on the true beauty
Of a tree’s bright leaves or flowers,
Of a waterfall’s great power,
Soon you’ll find your vision shifting,
As the minutes roll to hours.
And to unwind you begin,
Like pluming grasses in the wind,
As a breeze can comfort you
And help you see the world anew.
The war with life’s resounding din
Can sound like raining rocks on tin.
This battle we hope you will win;
So take the first step,
Please come in.
– Mindy Arbo
Finding ourselves ready for both adventure and respite, we went in. It was probably an average sized suburban lot – maybe a little larger than the uniform green lawns we’d been walking past, but not unusually so. But this garden was so invested with love, you could palpably feel it. There were statues tucked into corners, poems printed on gates, pools of water with koi or fountains of cheerful water. There were blocks of rose quartz and a thousand varieties of plant. And through it all was the warm sense of welcome – to be invited as strangers into this labor of love and trusted to tread there with light and respectful feet. What a precious gift to give to strangers – the labors of your years!
We weren’t the only ones who liked the garden:
We left with light feet and light hearts, to return home.
The next block, we found a candy shop:
Grey, admittedly, got tired by this point. The entire journey was about 4 miles, which is rather a long walk for a five year old. I talked about the plants we passed on our long walk home: the walnut trees, foxglove, dogwood. (I got accused of making things up.) With tired feet, we came home – infinitely richer for our adventures.
I had forgotten. I had forgotten how many secrets you cannot see from the thirty-five-miles-an-hour world I live in. I had forgotten how lovely it is to walk with friends. I had forgotten the infinite variety of homes people live in. I had forgotten how liberating it is to step off the path and onto another path that does not lead to your goal.
I am so grateful to have remembered, and to have won a battle against “life’s resounding din”.