I had always presumed that the gate led into some mammoth garden belonging to a house on the parallel road. Looking down the overgrown tunnel of a path I couldn’t quite work out the geography of this gap in the map. I’d never given it much thought, a walled private garden, a family home on the periphery of my evening stroll around the park. With little else to do and no reason to get home and craving event, I stepped through the gate. It smelt damp and the tunnel led to dark green and soft shadows. My feet bounced on the brown mulch of seeds and fallen leaves, the air was still and cold on my face. I didn’t feel scared. It was 9pm and only beginning to grow dark. I gave myself an hour or so to find out.
What struck me first was how carefully the foliage hid the passageway from view. Stout, dense shrubbery lined the tunnels and obscured the base of the walls such that it was diffuclt to see where they began. The vines swayed in the wind with such ambiguous fancy that I could not tell just how high the ceiling was.
Up ahead was a wild grove of small trees just grown beyond saplings, in such close proximity to each other that they would soon choke the tunnel. As I peered closer, I realised with a start that there was a pattern to the way the reedy trunks entwined, so regular in its braiding that it could not be natural. This was the result of someone’s careful and painstaking effort. In a few years, the trees would block the path complete, but for now it posed no large obstacle to me and my small leather knapsack.
Along the still, warm evening air carried the bells from the Abbey. A quarter past the hour already. I hardly need move an inch and new beauty was opening up before me. Leading on from the grove with the intricately entwined trunks was another situation that struck me as clearly not by natural selection. At first glance the opening looked as though it was a tangle of low-slung shrubs and weeds fighting each other for access to sun and soil. My rubber soles gently stepped along the barely perceptible path, making a soft rustle and crunch on the dried leaves from the weeks of baking sunshine we had had. The cat mint and lavender sent up a mild fragrance that danced in the air before vanishing as if to hide their existence. The lady’s mantle looked apologetic. As though it keenly felt the fact it had no moisture on its leaves to offer to passing feathered travellers taking rest on their routes to anywhere. Fleabane filled itself into gaps, like bubbles from champagne bubbling over with a sense of lightness and beauty.
After a moment I saw it. All of these plants could not have been randomly broadcast. I stopped to simply stare for more than a moment. Contemplating its beauty and comprehending the sudden feeling I had that this had not been created for my eyes. Suddenly I had a keen feeling of trespassing. Of being watched, although not in any sinister way, but a way that I understood to be that this was not destined for me and I should not be there.
I followed the lichens with my eyes, green red interspecies living. Their interconnectivity reminded me of something from my distant past I could not quite reach. I looked up and infront of me a gigantic greenhouse towering up, transparent agains the sky, almost invisible big glass plates. It looked as if its been left for decades. All of the trees and plants were breaking through the glass and the roof of the building. Tropical plants from collected from different edges of the world, taking over the building.
A pack of stray dogs passed by me, I was afraid of them jumping on me but they seemed very busy on their way somewhere. At the end of the road was a fence, I found a tree leaning over it that I climbed and then down to the other side. The air was completely moist here, felt like breathing water. I entered through a broken window into what looked like the old office of the greenhouse. It seemed the people that once were here had just left for a lunch break to never return. Everything left untouched. There was slippers in the hall, some hats hanging on hooks, a pair of gloves on the chair. I cup with something that started to grow in it. A schedule was pinned on the wall and some to do lists. I opened a cabinet with many small drawers, and in them was rows and rows of seeds, carefully organized and named.
What was perhaps most alarming was the absence of smell. Considering the strange, luminous fauna that had inevitably overrun the abandoned interior of the greenhouse, and that it seemed, with no footprints in the dust, that I was the first person to enter for a considerable time, I would’ve imagined a powerful aroma would’ve struck me upon entering. Nothing. Nor even when I opened the drawers. It felt clean somehow, not washed, clearly not with the moisture in the air making it feel muggy and dense, but somehow pristine. I felt an urge to leave, but not fear. I turned and left the glasshouse to return to the garden.
Beyond the greenhouse, lawns stretched out towards a wooded boundary. Clover and buttercups and dandelions and cornflowers all mixed up in miscellaneous grasses. I lay down on the ground, on my back I felt safe, I might not be seen, or if I was I would look accidental. I watched the sky turn to dusk. The world felt soft. I looked back on my concerns as the light faded, thought through the people I have worried with and about everyday with such force that exhaustion has become the status quo. I held their bodies at a distance, each in turn. I tried to relax my jaw.
At this time of year it doesn’t get fully dark, the light just bounces off the horizon and deadlines lose meaning, the day never needs packing away. Hours passed, trees silhouetted, the ground lost heat and my pulse slowed.
There is a time between sleep and wake when the senses can be trained to be alert. I had heard that it was the best time for meditation. Within the walls of the Abbey, some monks spoke about it in hushed tones. If this was what it felt like, then I thought to myself, I should work this practice into a regular schedule. In a garden like this, this wild yet tethered place where the foliage presented doubt, I was laying on my back, feeling safe. And meditative.
It wasn’t a hodgepodge place. It was a stained glass window, a mosaic that defined the windows of churches. I always thought of churches through its windows.
Memory of light waiting patiently outside to enter, came to me.
You went to church to declare your mortality. The declaration made it real. That realness smelled like incense. Sometimes it was light and pleasant. Sometimes it choked.
The make-up artist had said that my undertone was cool. I had stopped wearing gold even before I knew this. Gold never made me feel pretty.
I stared up at the green roof over my head. A split second of jealousy hit my chest. I wondered what undertone green qualified as. The parasitic white flowers on the branches above my head were beautiful. At my feet, the purples and yellows of the silver lupines and buttercups and variegated leaves that I couldn’t identify were all a perfect match for this undertone.
The garden looked gorgeous with wild hair as it did with a neat cut; in blue or yellow as it did in white or purple.
Some people had that quality.
As I walked through into trees at the edge of the lawn in the half light I could hear small rustlings in the leaves, feathers settling in the branches, waiting for dawn to come too soon. All that I had held had worried over these past weeks disintegrated behind me, to such an extent that I panicked in moments that I wouldn’t reach those parts of my life again.
Each stone was so deeply upholstered in moss that the wall appeared to be built of wedges of cake, piled high so only a glimmer of night sky was visible between the leaves and the boundary overhead. I could hear roller shutters and car doors and busy footsteps and lazy engines starting up on the other side, door codes being tapped out and the pedestrian crossing beep outside of the supermarket. I guessed it was somewhere between 6-8am along the high street around the corner from my house.