Thursday, August 12, 2010

Centenary

Harland Hand, an artist and gardener of genius, spoke of the path, the lookout and the shelter as the three touchstones that a garden must provide. Here is a glimpse of Jan Sachs and Marty Schafer's garden in Carlile, Massachusetts, one of the great gardens. I took the picture two years ago. I could go on and on about that place, but focus instead on the white eruption center left in the picture above.

Here it is closer up: that's an Artemisia whose specific name has been lost in translation, as it were. It's similar to but a better garden plant than the famous A. lactiflora 'Guizhou' (pronounced, incidentally, "Gway, Joe" and Not "Gooey, dzoouee" or the hundred other silly ways I've heard it called)...the Schafer/Sachs got seed from NARGS (donated by me) a long time ago. It has long since vanished from Denver Botanic Gardens, but flourishes still in Massachusetts. I must get it back!
I pick this plant to commemorate my mother, Artemisia Kornaraki Kelaidi, who was born a hundred years ago tomorrow. I was a mommy's boy (although I love and honor my father as well, who celebrates a very different centenary this year I will honor as well in due time). I shall see if I can scan an appropriate image of her: the Artemisia above should stand in pretty nicely until I do. My mother was uncommonly beautiful in a dozen different ways.
Incidentally as I type this, it's raining buckets outside my window, although the mountains 20 miles away are clearly visible and there is sunlight shining in my eyes, which I confess are streaming tears.
I am quite sure that when Shakespeare imagined Viola or Beatrix, or maybe Portia he had someone who looked the way my mother would have looked at the appropriate age in mind. Right up to when she was ninety and passed away, her head and face were exquisitely formed, elegant, and her eyes were a piercing silvery blue color, just like Athena's must have been. She was as complicated and compelling as a whole cast of Shakespearean protaganists. I never ceased to be delighted and intrigued and amused and entertained by her riveting conversation and her intelligent mind. I worshiped her, although at times I was exasperated by her trivial lapses, and my perception of her faults. In retrospect, I bemoan the grief I gave her and (although I know she knew) I wish i could have told her then what I know now: that she was the kindest, wisest , most beautiful, and most perfect mother a man could ever hope to have. And she was mine.
How ironic that this Greek goddess, this Venetian beauty, that my remarkable mother would share the Scientific name for sagebrush. Wormwood for God's sake. Her physical beauty would be worthy of an orchid or some glorious flowering tree like a Jacaranda or Spathacea, or some spectacular wild Iris, like I. cycloglossa.
I'm over it: I guess I am content to be the son of sage. Most Artemisia, after all, are incredibly lacy, and my mother loved lace. And they can form gnarled bonsai of enormous elegance and beauty. And I love the smell of almost any Artemisia, and there are few more richly aromatic and evocative things on earth than the sagebrush steppe after a heavy rainstorm.
I have been gathering various species of Artemisia over the years, partly as homage to my mother, on one hand. And also as an acknowlegement of their own intrinsic beauty. I find that I think of my mother, who died ten years ago, almost every day as I get older. This year I think of her more than ever. There's justice to things when I realize that no matter where I travel, Artemisia comprises a large proportion of the landscape, on the steppes of Asia where I'm headed soon, or the steppes of the American West.
Mother, I rejoice in your ubiquity, skirting my paths, providing shelter to my thoughts and a deathless lookout for my soul gazing out to eternity.

3 comments:

  1. What a lovely, sweet, honorable post. Quite unlikely to find a man speaking of his mother in such kindly ways on any given day, so this is quite special.

    I am sure she knows.

    Sage. What a splendid word!

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  2. Thank you Christi. You are a terrific e-friend!One of the unintended consequences of having your own kids is that you really come to appreciate your own parents. And mine are doozies (kids AND parents)...

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  3. I am not sure that any of the following are better than your own words.

    "One race there is of men, one of gods, but from one mother we both draw our own breath."
    - Pindar

    "No one like one's mother and father ever lived"
    -Lowell

    "Guided by my heritage of a love of beauty and a respect for strength - in search of my mother's garden, I found my own."
    -Walker

    "Sons are the anchors of a mother's life"
    -Sophocles

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