All my dad wanted this last Christmas was for us to spend some time poring through old photo albums, to make notes about what took place in the margins. My parents, divorced now for as long as they were married, still celebrate Christmas together with my brother and I. We’re a motley crew of boho parents, their red headed children and the favorites in tow, all stooped over dusty albums and old photos from the early 80′s.
In a way I had come to think of this time as not having really existed, since when I look around there is no proof of it in my life. What had been a healthy portion of my youth growing up in a far away place was now an ever more insignificant amount of time in adult years. But cracking open those albums in the company of others turned the flat pages into pop up books and diaramas full of color and dimension. What lept out at me full of life this time was the landscape… so many familiar plants! Not that I remember them from being there at that time, but rather, being a landscape designer now, I saw the plants I’ve been trying to place in my gardens today, bizarrely matched here in the lost archives of my childhood.
My fascination with statuesque trees which I had come to describe as looking like something from Africa I realize now more accurately resemble the Bodhi trees of my childhood in Sri Lanka. The Agave that I thought I saw for the first time this summer – and had to buy up for all my dearest clients – appears like a once lost puppy standing with us in a family portrait, the mountains of Peradinia a misted backdrop… What else would I unearth by thinking back to this time?
I search around in the dusty archives of my mind for another plant… Why was I compelled to buy a maiden hair fern as my first gift for my sweetheart? I remember the ancient fern growing from the volcanic rock center piece of the Galleface Hotel dinning room. Like a terrestrial black coral draped in algae it loomed over my brother and I as we challenged each other to imaginary worlds under its delicate canopy. How strange to see so many of the signs and symbols of what I like a reflection of an earlier time that I thought I had lost.
These were in fact the most haloed years of my youth; collecting hermit crabs on gently sloped beaches, inventing secret forts under the massive damp boulders of the harbor breakwaters, sharing picnics with the ants atop elephantine rocks that looked out over the vast Indian Ocean. For many years it had seemed like a time that had no relevance. Now I see that it was the tap root of my imagination. That I envision outdoor retreats for my clients has an uncanny resemblance to the hours I wiled away with my brother. Working has become a tool of dreaming distant places into existence, reflecting another time into the present.
The cliche of being an archeologist digging through layers of the past may be tired and worn, yet when you think about it in detail, the dust of the day covering something… This magical dust of the atmosphere that makes sunsets and rainbows and rain possible also has the power to cover, encase, and preserve anything staying still. When my pets have passed and I’ve dug a place in the earth for them I’ve come to pray for a keepsake a kind of trade between living and passing. Once it was a turquoise and silver pendant shaped like a flower or star and another time it was a large silver soup spoon with oak leaves and acorns wrapped around the base and charcoal from a hundred year old kitchen midden some two feet down. How I found those spots for my dear animal friends is a mystery, yet it does teach that if we pay attention what we are waiting for and what is waiting for us have a chance to meet.