Garden of Eden. Where is it? by Trish MacGregor
In 2000, we moved into our present house. The backyard was a disaster – barren of beauty, filled with weeds and fire ant hills. It definitely wasn’t a place where you would spend your free time. But that backyard also reflected the state of my life at the time – my mother was in an Alzheimer’s unit and my father, who lived with us, had Parkinson’s.
Twelve years later, my backyard is a miniature jungle, a place where shadows pool beneath burgeoning branches and sunlight spills like liquid through leaves as large as condominiums. The biggest leaves grow from a vine that clings to one of our palm trees. Its tenacity is shocking. This vine started as a cutting from an ivy plant that didn’t look as though it would survive. I tossed it in the backyard shortly after we moved here, and it now it’s as tall as the tree.
We have three mango trees, and one of them is a Hatcher, the best of the best. When they are ripe, they weigh a pound or more and, inside, clumped round the giant seed, is a fruit so gold, so sweet and succulent, that when you sink your teeth into it, you enter Eden. This type of mango was created by a Florida guy named Hatcher, who experimented with various types of mangos, crossbreeding, grafting, until he created the perfect mango. The Hatcher tree started from a tiny sprout that we bought about week after we moved in.
Our avocado tree started from a seed about two weeks after my mother died. For years, it didn’t do anything, didn’t produce any avocados, it just kept getting taller and taller. Then my husband, Rob, trimmed the upper branches and suddenly, it began to bud and tiny avocados appeared. This year, it produced more than 50 avocados. We had so many that we gave them away at the gym, in yoga classes, to neighbors. And what we didn’t give away went into salads or into the blender for guacamole.
Then there’s the papaya. The enzymes of this fruit are fantastic for digestion. We started with a single tree in our garden and within a year it produced papaya that made your tummy sing. One of the hurricanes in 2004-2005 flooded the garden and because these trees have such shallow roots, the papaya tree was toppled. But we had tossed some seeds at random spots in the yard and some of the seeds took. We now have two papaya trees that produce fruit that are just fantastic.
At the back corner of our property is a grapefruit tree. It was a gift from my first editor, Chris Cox, when our daughter, Megan, was born. It has been uprooted and moved twice in the last 23 years. It produces grapefruit that is best for juice.
Rob recently transformed the side yard, around the Hatcher mango tree, so that when I glance out my office windows, I see the tendrils of ivy that cover the ground and shoots of bamboo and lavender clusters of Mexican heather, a private little paradise. Critters scurry around, busy with their lives. Fire ants build great domes of sand, lizards and iguanas and possums feed from the bowl of cat food I leave out for a neighbor’s cat, squirrels feasts on our mangos, our avocados. Birds trill from the branches of the trees. I’m seduced into gratitude.
If we can’t appreciate where we are, how will we ever get to where we would like to be?
Everywhere I look outside in the yard, I see lushness, a richness that defies expectations. So when I begin to feel a nomadic itch for my favorite places – Ecuador, Costa Rica, the island of Chiloe in distant Chile, Angel Falls in Venezuela – I walk outside and my itch is briefly sated.
Nature speaks to us constantly – in small ways, big ways- and when we are attuned, when we surrender to the flow, we enter a sacred place where anything and everything is possible. My backyard is that kind of place.
Jimi Hendrix called it “kiss the sky.”
John Lennon called it Imagine.
Janis Joplin called it A Little Piece of My Heart.
But for me, in some way, shape or form, it always reduces to synchronicity – meaningful coincidence. My outer world is the internal made manifest, a faithful reflection of my inner being. Maybe this sounds like New Age silliness, but for me, it happens to be true. When I step outside into my little slice of nature, my personal Eden, my Walden Lake, I am prompted to be mindful, present. I am here, now. But what’s that mean exactly?
It means that I must take my cues from everything in nature, not just the green lushness. Everything, even mice. We believe that one of our three cats caught a mouse and brought it into the house, where it escaped. We believe that mouse was pregnant. Over a period of several months, we started hearing scratching in the walls. Our cats were unusually interested in an area under the stove. Our dog, a golden retriever, often joined the cats at the Watch Spot by the stove. We bought mouse traps, blocked off entrances and exits, and slowly and surely, the mice appeared. There were eight of them.
Eight mice. Living in our walls. Snacking on dog food, cat food, whatever they could find. Esoterically, mice are connected to details, eight is the number for money. We got the message and it was this: traditional publishing, in which we’ve been involved since 1983, is undergoing a tectonic shift. What worked in the past won’t suffice anymore. Our industry – like banks, insurance companies, schools, every institution you’re familiar with – is changing. If we don’t change along with it, we might as well call it a day. So we’re branching out, trying new venues, following the synchronicities. I think it’s working.
This morning, I walked up the hall from the bedroom and saw a baby tree frog hopping toward me. These beautiful creatures have suckers on their feet and often cling to my window at night, when the insects gather on the glass. Esoterically, they have always meant good luck and prosperity for us. I have no idea how this guy got into the house, but I open the front door and prod him outside, thanking him for dropping by, hoping he’ll enjoy the warmth of the morning sun.
I stand for a moment in the open doorway and am suddenly overwhelmed by the sight of the giant bamboo tree in our front yard. It started as a tiny cutting I bought at Home Depot about eleven years ago. It was on sale. I nurtured it along for awhile as an indoor beauty, then planted it in the front yard. It now consists of several dozen shoots that are probably twenty or thirty feet tall. The leaves shed constantly. Rob threatens to cut it back, but I think if we leave it alone, it will become a bamboo forest within several decades that will overtake this suburban neighborhood. And hey, maybe by then the bamboo forest will be populated with Pandas.