I heard a cry in the night,
A thousand miles it came,
Sharp as a flash of light,
My name, my name!
It was your voice I heard,
You waked and loved me so --
I send you back this word,
I know, I know!
- Sara Teasdale, “Message”
When I first learned to love to read, I read science fiction. My favorite science fiction theme was time travel. Of course time travel is already possible, but only one-way. A garden is a good place to witness the arrow of time travel pointing into the future.
On a large scale, the sun marks every measure of the seasons as the earth tilts my garden further above the equator in my summer – closer to the sun’s warmth – and rolls it south again in chill winter. On a more modest time scale, the sun marks every measure of a day in my garden by ducking in and out of clouds, and by slowly moving west. In other words, by messing around with shadows.
The arrow of seasonal time brings only tomorrow and tomorrow, but shadow and light still dance as old friends each day. And there is no question of privilege, of one over the other, of conflict between those that have sun and those that have it not. Plants satisfied with their climate thrive, those that aren’t are not invited back. Shy plants that prefer shade, gather beneath sympathetic shadows. Show-offs seeking the spotlight, thrive in the sun’s bright glare.
Gardens, once planted, should evolve slowly and organically, at a spontaneous yet meditatively slow pace ordained by the stars in the sky. And over time, the garden should take over for the gardener, like a science fiction story where some benign futuristic robot relieves his ancient master’s toil.
Gardens permit you to see through the distances of time – a sort of time travel into the past. A shadow is composed of bits of contrast that add up to harmony – between dark and light; soft and sharp; yesterday and tomorrow, and between energy and torpor. Beneath shadows in a garden, you may witness the arrow of time reaching back towards the past.
A shadowed garden is the best place to exchange messages – between travelers who have lived in the garden and those who are yet to live there. A blinding flash of light, a haunting cry in the night, a single shifting shadow – there among still shadows. Whispering their timeless message back and forth: I know, I know.