I returned from a New York business trip – sick. As I lay on my bed hoping I wouldn’t throw up because that always means a trip to the ER to rehydrate the body and calm the raging stomach, the darndest thought popped into my fevered brain. Legacy! Most of us as we round the corner into older middle age think about what kind of legacy we hope to leave after we are eternally gone from this earth.
We want to be remembered though we know a generation or two hence we will be a dim memory at best. Most of us won’t have a park or a building named after us. We won’t have an on-going non-profit serving the greater good in our name. Our likeness won’t be etched in rock in a national park.
Who will remember that we were here and does it matter?
A third trip to the bathroom later, hoping it would be the last, I realized the only thing that mattered to me was that my life be meaningful. Unwittingly, it is what I had sought throughout the decades. Yet, I wasn’t quite sure how that translated into legacy – so I started with gratitude.
What was I most grateful for or to? What had sustained me through the difficult times?
Interestingly, it was earthly things – animals, plants, trees, beautiful landscapes and the beauty of simple things in harmony with its environment – that had created the most peace and healing. I say interestingly because I consider or considered myself a city person. Born in New York City, raised in upstate New York, nature was accessible at summer camp in Canada and summers in the Adirondacks but my focus was on material things, fitting in with certain social groups, and surviving my teen years in one piece. Parental mantras for young girls growing up in Rochester, NY in the 60’s, was get married and raise a family. Careers or self-fulfillment was achieved through your husband’s successes. Thus, the long arduous journey into fulfillment, meaning and wisdom didn’t start until the ink was drying on the divorce papers.
The natural world first pulled me in through books. Barry Lopez’s book “Of Wolves and Men” turned on an internal spigot of yearning that upon reflection could only have ended here, Mt. Shasta, California. Now three thousand miles and a million light years away from my upstate New York upbringing, my legacy specifically to and for myself and to others who are interested in visiting is this piece of land in rural Northern California
This land first spoke to Tim and Headwaters Outdoor School was born. It speaks to me differently. It is the chief landscape artist and I am its faithful employee crafting gardens in concert with the curve of the earth.
How it beckoned me, a city girl who never dug into earth or planted things, still astonishes me.
We had just moved to Shasta. It was 2001 and like the Stanley Kubrik movie of the same named year, other-worldly things, a personal space odyssey, were catching my attention. I was always busy, on the phone, arguing and negotiating – yet – I was pulled beyond my every day tunnel vision as I would hear sounds from somewhere, not quite sure where. It started as a long, slow, deep sound like a cello. Almost inaudible except for an occasional high note that resonated and caught my ear forcing me to stop and look. Narrowing my eyes to find the sound, I stood perfectly still, listening, watching from inside. The wind calling my name, calling me to come out where I felt the sun, saw the curve of the land, the dry earth littered with ground up lava stone and rock from the beginning of time, wild grass, cedar, manzanita and pine trees. I stood in the wildness and listened, quietly, uncharacteristically still.
I would often be called outside to stand quietly and still. One day I again heard a soft, slow sound like a cello from the heart of the earth playing with the gentle wind’s violin-like sound, nature’s Yoyo Ma, and Itzhak Perlman were playing for me. Extraordinary! I had watched and listened for several years but this day I knew what was asked of me. This piece of land was inviting me to join the music.
The only instrument I had to offer was my imagination. I saw the earth in symbols – circles, triangles, and spirals. As I watched and imagined, the music grew louder. Symbols and mythic yearnings became structures of meaning, and more earthly and ethereal instruments joined. I lavished symbols of stone and steel in just the right places, and the earth responded with more instruments and music, a symphony, the land and I were creating a symphony.
The unfinished symphony is a grouping of extraordinary gardens. The earth conducts, and I play, and Tim plays – yet a symphony needs many instruments. We began to create an orchestra of part-time musicians who leave their musical phrases in service to the land’s concerto’s, symphonies, quartets, opera’s, harmonies and rhythms. The land speaks to visitors in healing tones as they wonder why they are tearing up or outright crying.
At this point in life, it is enough to caretake and create gardens, knowing my ashes will be scattered here and there when the time comes, to be composted into this earth – my legacy.