A Love Letter to “N”
By Diana Ellis
Have I told you lately how much I love you? Gosh, we’ve been going together for so long now – I think sometimes I just take you for granted, which is always a dangerous thing to do in a relationship!
I’ve been trying to remember the first time we met – that first time I noticed you, and started wondering about you. I think I was about 7. The family was living out on that cliff that overlooked Passage Island in Howe Sound. There was a big spar of a fir tree out front – our Eagle Tree – do you remember?
Gosh, you were gorgeous – I would bury my toes in your thick green springy moss on that big rocky outcropping beside the house. I remember kneeling to smell that moss, parting it, lifting out a small chunk to find out it had many bits – fuzzy green tops, spindly furry legs reaching down to damp dark rootlets. How, I would ask my little self, could it be like this in the spring, then so completely dry, crunchy and golden in the summer – then soggy wet in the winter? I think now that you were teaching me about your seasons perhaps?
And the creek – do you remember your little creek, with all of its forks – on the forested back of the property? Playing engineer, I and my two brothers wreaked havoc on your creek – building our handmade earth and pebble dams, banging together weird wooden bridges in Dad’s workshop and dragging them out to install over the stream. You were so forgiving – eventually returning the landscape back to “normal” which gave us more opportunities to redo it! With rubber boots on, we’d go out to play at your creek all the time – to see how high it rose after big rains, and how it nearly dried up in summer, to catch your tadpoles in the quiet pools of spring – in big glass jars – your murky water with those little flitting critters inside. We learned words like erosion – flood – pool– gravity – frog.
And I remember, with a chill down my back now, how we’d always come in from the creek and forest before it got really dark – (and you made the forest really dark)– because I was sure each night you’d fill the forest with my private childhood fear – a sleek fast cougar, eager to chomp little girls! I’m not sure I’ve ever told you about the really scary “cougar bad dreams” I had. Hmmmm–I’m now thinking maybe you sent them to me?
And you were dangerous! I remember the way you shed those slidey arbutus leaves onto that skinny path leading down the steep slope to the rocky beach. Many times my running shoed feet slid on those leaves – making me aware of the edge! That would remind me to reach and grab those nearby fir tree branches to hold me back from a fall over the edge. You are such a double-dare tease – nearly pushing me over the edge and providing a hand-hold at the same time. And that rocky beach of yours, my first “being on all by myself” beach, that’s where you taught me to balance-walk on your big round boulders – how to choose which rock was not slippery, which rock was firmly placed, which would wiggle with my 8-year-old girl-weight landing on it. When I grew up I learned about the word “discernment” – – and realized I’d experienced its meaning walking that slidey steep path and the long boulder beach.
You already knew my Dad of course. He had learned how to work with you to grow things. From that time, when I was a little girl, until he was an old man, he’d tell and show me what he’d learned from you. That before anything else, plants need your soil to be nutritious for them to flourish. That you loved to be fed manure, seaweed, compost, our fireplace ashes. That you let some plants grow in the shade, and others in the sun. That you liked some seeds pushed in deep, others not so much. That your tomato plants produced more fruit when their suckers were pinched off. To learn this, he told me all I needed to do was to watch you – observe where the sun warmed you in spring, summer and fall, to know where you were naturally dry and where your rain pooled, what grew in your deep dark soil, what grew in your shallow sandy parts, and that you didn’t mind having your stiff clay soil broken up. Oh – the hours Dad and I spent together outside in your company – with all senses opened.
My dear N – my dear Nature – I could write you a love letter for each of the gardens you’ve taught me to grow, for every hike taken up your flanks, for every one of your sunny meadows I’ve napped on, for all your bodies of water crossed. But for now, please know that I will never take you for granted, and that I have always loved you.
With big gratitude,