… I can appreciate that part of my soul shares something with that of plants and flowers and vegetables. Why else would I have a ficus in my living room, a garden of herbs and tomatoes just outside the house, and peonies and orchids blossoming around me? Are they just physically there like the furniture, or are we cousins of a sort? Am I more at home with this vegetative life? Thomas Moore*
Since my recent relocation to Southland New Zealand, I have been searching for a sense of what home means to me. I didn’t relocate for my own job– my husband accepted a position here, and I am more than happy to accompany him on this adventure. But a sense of home is critically important to finding my place and purpose. In some ways I have been trying to work this out for more than a decade, as I designed a new life after a divorce. Fifteen years ago I drove away from my house that I had helped to design and build and raise two children in — a house across the street from where I had grown up — to live alone several towns away in an apartment over a barn. I had no idea what would happen to me next or where I would end up. There have been seven moves since. In my wildest dreams I never imagined I would end up on the bottom of this far-flung island in the South Pacific, over 9000 miles from New England.
It’s easy for me to say that the first element of home is having loved ones nearby. No structure, garden, neighborhood, beach or mountain vista can replace the need I have to be close to my family. The bridge we used to move here was family, in fact, because two of my stepdaughters had settled here and now we have Kiwi grandchildren and a growing clan. But I still had to leave family, friends, and loved ones in the US. How did people bear to do this before the days of Facetime, Skype,Facebook, and Air New Zealand? I can’t even imagine the sense of loss and distance. Many people here emigrated from the British Isles, over 11,000 miles away. The Maoris arrived here from other islands, voyaging in canoes across dangerous oceans.
I have noticed that in New Zealand we are not only privileged to enjoy the natural scenery, but that the people here really know how to garden. The most modest of homes often are bedecked in flowers, garden trellises, and shrubbery with a tiny glasshouse in the back yard near the shed. In fact, yards are not a big deal at all (except for use as grazing or sport!) Hedges, paths, flowering shrubs, raised boxes, vines, fruits and veggies are worked around the homes amidst the sheep pens, pastures and bush.
I sometimes question whether I should “invest” the effort and expense to develop the gardens around this house because I may only be here a few short years. But then I realize that the simplest acts of cultivation around the place brings me happiness: for instance, raking away the old leaves reveals some lovely rocks that were carefully placed by a former inhabitant. And the hassle of setting up a new raised veggie box will be worth it when I can step outside and collect fresh greens for dinner. There is no better way to connect with a home than to grow and cook your food.
It will be a while before this feels like where I belong, but I think I have found one of the paths—and I can gaze at it from my window.
*Read more of Thomas Moore’s essay on the Veggie Soul: http://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/care-soul-veggie-soul