Thursday, October 18, 2012

Wintergreen, and the limits of domesticity, in the Bewitched Garden

Photo of wintergreen plants by Robert Benner, Flickr Creative Commons license.
Today is my first day of housesitting at Bewitched Garden, in the north suburbs of Seattle. My friends, who gave their house that name because of its intricate back-yard garden, have departed for the marketplaces and fresh SIM-cards of the former Byzantium.

I'm in a house packed with good fiction, a shy, basement-dwelling gray cat, two small dogs (one with tall, fringed ears that leap in his friendliness, the other pint-sized and barking to ward me off, the new intruder), and an unfamiliar microwave.

First thing this morning, coffee was in order. Preparing to re-heat some left in an urn by the airport-scramblers, I tapped a button that read “microwave” (it apparently does other things: toast, de-frost, broadcast CBC…) on the electronic box above the stove. The printed screen immediately suggested, “Bacon?”

Ah, a non-Kosher microwave. These things usually start with “popcorn,” but figuring I’d go with the flow, I pressed “forward." The machine queried, “Center cut?” -- becoming pressing in its specificity. 

High-grade pork, it wanted. Okay, I said. Forward arrow, again. 

The screen had a further inquiry: “1-2 slices?”

Not for the noncommittal, steamed-vegetables substituted by Lipton-in-a-cup, microwave-user, this machine.

I pressed “yes” and watched as my coffee mug rotated.

The oversized crockery mug, its side painted with holly branches and kilned to a matte, bas-relief finish, made me think: Perhaps I too should have such mugs.

In my scrappy way, with my un-updated apartment and thrift-store items, perhaps I wasn’t setting myself up for success. I’m setting my goals too low, I reflected to myself over my good coffee, looking at the screen of the PowerMac as I typed.  

I thought about how European houses and Turkish apartments are smaller, the beds narrower, the luxuries decreased. At the same time, I realized: Yes, but our culture (and most contemporary ones) is about the small things that make us feel settled in a place. 

The house is a 1928 bungalow. It has lovely windows and well-restored interiors. Its details are subtle, design-aware. On the back doorstep, tiny painted stones and rounds of mirror balance near a railing. They’re something to look at, meant to catch the light.

I woke this morning with light at the fine, square-set windows, each placed just where I would have it in the 1928 walls. Around me were soft, many-thread-count sheets, several pillows, and a warm and fluffy comforter.

Through the open windows, the sounds of birds singing and calling drifted up from trees and the pine-needled ground. Conifers could be seen through the shades.

I live in Seattle, but not in a place where I can sit in a garden, hear birdcalls, or smell conifers.

My home is walking distance from nearly everything exciting in the city, in my point of view. It’s a short walk from museums, urban parks, and much people-watching. It is near coffee houses and art spaces and interesting little night clubs.

This morning I sat with my coffee at an iron-work table in the Bewitched Garden.

It was clear, even there, that some things are always about perspective. I had a choice of two garden tables, one near the center of the patio, the other larger but stacked with outdoor chair-cushions under an umbrella.

Trying out the table without cushions, I realized that this section of yard was lower, more seeped by Seattle morning damp. A bit to the left, under the umbrella, the air was lovely and I leaned back with my mug.

Wintergreen plants grew near the table, I knew. My friend had instructed me to keep an eye out for them. She’d often had wintergreen as a child in Michigan. “It tastes like gum,” she said, this morning, before they scrambled for their late-arriving taxi.

The garden is indeed bewitched, its paths meandering like a country stream. They begin on the left side of the yard and pass a trellised grape vine, beds of violets and something like wild ginger, and a slender tree that might be a peach tree (it doesn’t produce, I’m told). 

In addition, there are Japanese maples with their starry fall foliage, a shed in the corner, an iron bed-stead around which plants poke and grow, a few plaques and signs, a thin iron canopy over a bench -- its supports hung with a sparkly-sided lamp with a lavender bulb, herb gardens in squares, trellised wisteria, a side garden, and three gnarled apple trees set like benign witches around the yard.

I look forward to exploring the garden, and its wintergreen. 

Photo of single wintergreen berry by Nicholas_T, Flickr Creative Commons license.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, Catherine!
    Thanks so much for leaving a note on my blog a couple of weeks ago! I've been hip-deep in editing, so the blog has been a little neglected lately.

    I'll poke around here a bit and send you an e-mail so we can catch up! We're in Seattle every so often, and it would be great to touch base.

    Take good care!



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