August 23 2020
The Swedish word ‘smultronstalle’ literally means a small remote place where wild strawberries grow, but it’s greater meaning is “rare moments of peaceful tranquility.” And rare those moments are. All the ones I’ve ever experienced have something to do with nature. A person’s mind first tends to leap towards big things like ocean waves crashing on the shore, walking through the redwoods, or standing on a mountaintop; but I think it’s more about those small moments when the mind is quiet. I don’t think you can think your way to that place, or unthink for that matter-I’ve tried to meditate, my mind will not stop talking and really, who’s going to weed that garden anyway if I’m just sitting there trying not to think about it.
Also, every time I’ve felt that calm come over me, I’ve been alone. I have always felt most peaceful when I’m alone, maybe a result of growing up in a troubled family and turning to nature for solace. Today I find that peace of mind in my garden and don’t mind spending the day moving from task to task all by myself. Of course it’s a joy to share my gardens with others and visit any and all gardens I can, but being on my own is freeing somehow and calming.
I remember as a child walking out onto the prairie surrounding our ranch, lying down in the center of a circle I pressed down around me. All I could see was a rim of grass and the sky. I could not have told you why I did such a thing, but sometimes the heart just knows what it needs.
There are places in the mountains of Montana where the wild strawberries grow and that could be your smultronstalle vision, but for me it’s the grasses. I am mesmerized by the graceful movement of tall grasses in the slightest breeze. The wind blowing across the prairie creates waves that are as soothing as those of the ocean.
I have to admit, when the tall grasses started to become available at greenhouses, I wasn’t so sure-I mean, they don’t have flowers (ok, they do but that’s not exactly why we grow them), provide shade or wind protection or all those things I look for in my garden plants. Theirs is a more subtle gift-a gift of grace perhaps.
One of my favorite grasses is ‘Overdam’ Feather Reed Grass with white edged blades and four foot or more tall seed stalks. I don’t cut them back until spring; they are beautiful all winter long.
May you find those moments of peaceful serenity and may your garden provide them. Pay attention, they tend to sneak up on you. Just this morning standing at the kitchen sink and looking out at my backyard the calm rightness of the world came and sat on my shoulders. Lucky me.
‘Overdam’ Feather Reed Grass, Calamagrostis acutiflora, zone 4-9, cool season