By Katie Pavel
“It's not that bad,” I say. “If you don’t look over that far, you can almost pretend it’s not there.”
My mom nods, unconvinced.
“Look,” I say. “If you stand here, this tree blocks it out entirely.”
“When you sit on the bench, though, you can still see it,” my dad says.
I frown. “Oh.”
“It won't be the same,” Mom says.
No, it won't be the same.
I stare down the 80-foot double-wide that is blocking a third of the once panoramic view of the foothills rolling out to the prairie and Bear Butte beyond. It’s not so much the ruined view that is upsetting, though that was part of what made this place special. It’s the fact that the seclusion of the garden has been lost.
A year or two after my brother died, now going on nine or so years ago, Mom and Dad fenced off a few acres in the upper southwest corner of their property to create a memorial garden for Brian. They chose that particular location because Brian often spent time there taking pictures of the wildflowers that appeared every season. Keeping the horses and goats from grazing has allowed the land to return to its natural, undisturbed state.
In addition to remembering Brian, Mom and Dad wanted to create a space where family members of those like Brian, those who have shared the gift of life through organ donation, or recipients who have received such gifts, can visit. They built a deck in a cove surrounded by pine trees so visitors can sit and reflect. A year or so later, a local church built a gazebo-like structure where Mom and Dad hung signs that explain the significance of the garden and its purpose. The recipient of Brian’s heart and liver even donated some benches. Every year, Mom mows paths in the garden so that people can meander through and around the flowers.
"When the rains come, the flowers flourish—cone flowers, sego lilies, wild rose, and lead plant—until the entire hillside is awash with color. "
The garden is far enough from my parents’ house so that you don’t feel like you’re intruding. Mom and Dad say they often don’t realize someone has visited until they hear a car heading back down the road. You can stare out at the view of Bear Butte, listen to the birds singing and the winds swaying through the grass, remember your loved ones, and cry if you want. You can stay from sunrise to sunset for as long as you like.
During dry years, the flowers are sparse. You have to walk slowly and search amongst the brome grass to find the delicate harebells blossoming underneath the growth. When the rains come, the flowers flourish—cone flowers, sego lilies, wild rose, and lead plant—until the entire hillside is awash with color. Mom always says the garden reflects life, how we survive through the hard times and blossom during the good. Every season is different and yet the garden, like life, continues to change and grow.
“Why’d they put their house there? Don’t they understand what the garden is for, how special it is?” friends asked my parents when they found out that the people who had bought the land directly to the south had chosen to plant their house right on the top of the hill, only a few hundred yards from the garden.
“They haven’t experienced a loss,” Dad said. “They can’t relate.”
I wish they could. Not that I’d wish the pain of losing someone on anyone. But still.
“Put up a privacy fence,” I said when I found out. I was kidding at the time, and yet I wasn’t.
Dad, always the diplomat, said that wouldn’t be the neighborly thing to do.
Before the land sold, you had to follow a two track, nothing more than a path, really, through the trees to reach the garden. The track was rough, and while Mom kept it mowed during the summer, it was all but impassable during the winter. Now, the trees have been cut down and a wide driveway leads to the house on top. It makes for easy access to the garden, too, but that’s just another part of the sentiment that is gone.
As we pause on the deck in the cove and reflect upon how the garden will now be, we reconsider my idea.
“Maybe not a full fence,” I say. “Just partitions. We could build windbreaks to block the view of the house out in the pasture. The horses and goats could use them, too. And up on top, we could put an art wall, a place maybe where people can donate decorations to hang in memory of their loved ones.”
Dad mulls over the idea. “You know, that might just work.”
“Something to consider,” Mom says.
For now, we’ll wait. We’ll see. Maybe the mood of the garden won’t change. Maybe visitors will still be able to find the seclusion and privacy they seek. Maybe Mom and Dad won’t have to mourn losing a little bit of Brian all over again.
In the end, what else can we do? Like the flowers, we have to find the good in the bad and allow for change. We have to continue to grow.
Katie Pavel is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. She has her own blog and runs Little Leaf Copy Editing, an online business that specializes in copy editing and writing consulting.