I am here in the historic Everglades Gardens, thousands of miles from home, looking to regain my centre. Somehow I have lost it in the ruckus of life, not having anticipated that I’m not well suited to a life with four extroverted stepchildren.
The retreat here is a balm to my soul, with the dappled shade of the ancient trees and the ever-present deep green of lovingly-tended plants. The predominant floral colours are cool whites and soothing lilacs; colours that rank highly in the spiritual hierarchy, or so I have heard. It is late afternoon and mostly it is peaceful here, though being a Sunday at the height of the tourist season, there is a gaggle of hangers on left over from the now-closed tea rooms and local craft markets. Their murmurings and mutterings are light-hearted and not harsh, yet still intrusive.
As I flee the main area for a quieter setting, a young father dances a jig with his baby daughter. Both are exotically dark and wide-eyed with the wonder of each other. The young man laughs good-naturedly as I tell him how beautiful his daughter is. I don’t think he even speaks my language but sometimes communication needs no words.
I pick my way haphazardly down the cobbled paths, descending with extreme care because my balance is very poor and the paths are moss-covered and precarious. Rugged stone walls, taller than I am, flank me as I walk. I run my fingers lightly across the rough, cool surface. Here, in this bewitching garden I become the rocks, the moss, the soil, and everything that emanates from Mother Earth.
Stopping here and there to photograph these slate-layered walls and the scattered Grecian urns that are, if anything, even more striking for their light feathering of lichens and mould, I’m aware that I’m somehow interrupting the atmosphere here. As I click my camera at the blue and white hydrangeas – favourites of mine – I am suddenly and acutely aware of another young man on the terrace below; a stern young fellow who glances up from the book he is reading and pins me down with the strength of his disapproval. I’m sorry to have disturbed him. It’s just that I want to take these memories home with me, to the husband who sits inside my heart, announcing his absence with a dull ache that refuses to leave.
A moment later, I seat myself at a quaint wrought iron setting, silencing my camera and taking pen and paper in hand. By the time I glance up again the stern young man is gone.
Where I come from, the heat is damp and oppressive. The drier heat in these parts is easier to bear though dangerous in its capacity to sear my sun-deprived skin like a well done steak. I am grateful for the dappled shade that cascades from the half dozen trees that form an umbrella around me. The grass is fine-bladed and looks baby-soft. I want to lean down and touch it but there are still people hovering close enough to think me odd. And because I am odd, I run the palms of my hands over it anyway. It fascinates me, this grass that grows in the shade of huge trees, a rare phenomenon in Australia. Grass that one can sit on without itching and wiggling one’s bottom to get comfortable; an outdoor plush-pile carpet.
On the terrace above me, a group of people grows raucous. I’m politely informed by another young man – they seem to be everywhere today – that I should leave the gardens unless I have a ticket for the local Shakespeare Society’s performance. I do not.
Nor do I want to leave this mystical patch of earth with the memory of loud, pompous voices. It is time to say goodbye, with my senses full of the smells of damp earth and pine needles, my ears remembering the music of the mountain Currawongs, and the after-image of dancing leaves and exquisite flowers burnt forever onto my delicate retinas. My soul is soothed by my brief sojourn here.