Vivian Swift is my favorite writer/illustrator. Opening one of her books is an invitation to cozy up on the couch by the window with a cup of honey lavender tea within arm's reach. Her writing makes me laugh and ponder; her watercolors make me sigh and imagine. She typesets the text of each of her books by hand. I feel her presence as I turn pages, as surely as if she were sipping tea alongside me.
Last night I finished her most recent book, Gardens of Awe and Folly - A Traveler's Journal on the Meaning of Life and Gardening. I'm not a gardener per se. I enjoy filling pots in the spring with petunias, geraniums and whatever colors pop out at me as a I browse Lowe's Garden Center aisles. The nine gardens that Vivian highlights, "from Scotland to Key West, from Brazil to Paris," are legitimate gardens, planned and planted with knowledge and intention. But it wasn't so much for the gardens as the journal on the meaning of life that I chose this book.
And on each of her garden journeys, Vivian's insights move me further along my own path.
Join me on three examples:
1. The Square du Vert-Galant in Paris - a big idea in a small space - to which Vivian says, "If you ever start to feel as if yours is a measly 2/3 acre life, remember [this] garden. Then nothing about you, your ideas, or your garden will ever feel small again."
2. Chelsea Physic Garden in London - a garden which has continually reinvented itself since its origin in 1673. Vivian's succinct message: "Things change. Deal with it."
3. A "midnight garden" in Rio de Janeiro - a walk of sausade, or melancholy. Vivian described the feeling in words that touched my own melancholy.
The presence of absence.
For, you see, my mother has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's dementia. As the disease progresses, absence will become more present. I ponder that reality and wonder, How can I focus on what is still present within the ever-deepening absence? I have no immediate answer to my question, but one of Vivan's illustrations reminds me to keep looking... in every present moment, to keep looking.