Last night I discussed The Secret Garden with my children's literature class. It's a book I often teach and one that I love as much now as I did when I was young. Many of my students love it, too. We talked in class about why this is so, and for many of us, it comes back to the garden itself, which is, of course, a deeply symbolic place, with echoes of Eden, and the roses themselves, like Mary, appearing to be lifeless while they are actually quite "wick" inside. More importantly, though, we simply love the idea of a secret place where children can go that is separate from the world of adults, a place like Neverland or Terabithia where their imaginations help them solve problems, build friendships, perceive possibilities, and create a sense of who they are and who they want to be.
When I was a girl, I had more than one such place. All the kids in the neighborhood played in the woods across the street from my house. We built forts, played hide-and-seek, told ghost stories, and ran wild through the trees. As I grew older, those woods changed; grownups thinned the trees, built more houses, expanded their yards, and the woods became more like a stand of trees. Not secret anymore.
Undaunted, my friends and I shifted our focus to the field behind my house. That field is still there today, miraculously. It's smack dab in the middle of houses and yards on three sides and a highway on the other, but it's large enough and the grasses and wildflowers grow tall enough that it provides plenty of secret places for kids. We built many a fort there with scraps of old wood, truck tires, and whatever else we could find. Time was different in the field--hours and minutes ceased to matter. What we cared about was play. Because play, when done well, is serious business.
Our construction jobs were not limited to the woods and the field. We often built forts in and around our house, some more permanent than others. There were always the Saturday-morning-cartoon-watching forts made of blankets and chairs and pillows. Those were fun, but fleeting. On rainy days we would sometimes head for the attic and string sheets up to build fortune-tellers' tents. The Ouija board and Tarot cards came out on those days, and we scared ourselves silly. I remember also a tiny, magical fort my brother once built outside in the narrow space between our house and our neighbors' stockade fence. It had a real door with hinges, a chair for reading, and a little shelf for treasures, for we always brought treasures and necessities to the forts we built. As a kid you understand what William Morris meant when he said, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." Everything we brought, from favorite books to tins of cookies, was essential. There was nothing extra, not only because it wouldn't fit, but because, well, why bother with anything else?
I often wish that more grown-up houses were like kids' forts--true havens, magical places where we go to retreat from one world and enter into another, better place of our own making. I always aim for that in each place I live, but I think I forget and start bringing in things I don't need or love. I have two ideal models for a hideout: one is the hobbit hole of Bilbo Baggins; the other is a gorgeous tree house like the one below. Maybe the hobbit hole will be my winter home one day and the tree house will be my summer Shangri-la.
What hideouts did you have as a kid? Do you have any now? What would be your ideal hideout?
I'm convinced that everything I paint is about getting back to my own childhood hideout: the swampy woods that surrounded my house. Every creaking tree was a witch's cackle, and the foundations of long lost houses held numerous treasures in the form of bottles, marbles, and ancient spice tins. I can't help but feel that the experience of having my own little kingdom provided me with all the creative juice I have.ReplyDelete
Yes! Me, too! I think that's why I keep a small milk jar of clay marbles on my desk. It helps bring me right back to that place. See, this is why we're pals.ReplyDelete
oh my ... do you believe that every day holds a gift? today, i am most grateful for your comments on my blog and the gift of finding your blog which is completely charming, inspiring and intriguing!ReplyDelete
i have always held the woods as my place of peace and enchantment ... i could just sit and gaze into the greens and browns watching the sun dance on leaves ... listening to the creatures stirring about...
some days, it's the pasture on the hill that pulls me ... wide open skies ... prairie winds ... it is all so precious and magical ... thank you and blessing to you gigi ~
What beautiful thoughts, prairiegirl! It's interesting how we need closed, hidden spaces some days while others we crave the wide open prairie and big, big skies. Thank you so much for visiting!ReplyDelete
oooohhh, this is gorgeous. i will come back later and tell. im on break. lol ; )ReplyDelete
I feel like the place I am living in now is a fort/tree house...(Ia tiny log cabin, surrounded by trees, with a stream below.) I tried to keep it simple and bring in only things that I deemed useful and believed to be beautiful-- or things that could have been pulled up on a rope into a tree house. (I used an old suitcase for a table for the first couple of years I lived here!). Alas, magic gives way to the practical...ReplyDelete
Love your childhood recollections. Sounds like you had a proper enchanting one!
Gretchen, I love your description of the cabin where you live! It sounds perfect to me. Talk about enchanting . . .ReplyDelete
This is so beautiful! I used to hang blankets and read with a flash light. It used to be my beautiful safe haven. Once my grandmother came in my tiny room and hung an old colorful scarf, near my lamp. It was so beautiful.ReplyDelete
Do you teach?
I need to put the secret garden on my list as a re-read. So lovely.
Christina, I loved reading by flashlight under the blankets, too. What a beautiful image of your grandmother hanging the scarf. I still do this sometimes myself! And yes, I do teach creative writing and literature to college students. Children's Lit is one of the classes I teach, so I have the great joy of introducing them to some pretty amazing books. The Secret Garden is always one of my favorites!ReplyDelete
More than anything, that is what Oak Hill Lodge is all about. So far besides the big Lodge which has given me a long, slow opportunity to sort through the possessions obtained over a 35 year marriage during which we lived in the same 13 room house; we have built Acorn Cottage (a magical Victorian space), Nutshell (a playhouse-work-in-progress) Oak Hill Nursery (a tiny greenhouse for my attempt at seedling nurture). Each dwelling is decked out in things I have collected through the years which are dear to me. What fun to touch each item and find a perfect place for it to rest.ReplyDelete
What a magical place you are creating--a girl after my own heart!ReplyDelete