Tuesday, October 26, 2010
HER OWN ROOM WITH A VIEW
The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (10/24/10)
After a migrating life, Susan Lamb Bean is standing still, the better to continue her journey. Her traveling life prepared her to stand still because now she knows what to look for. As a child, she moved often with her mother, 11 schools in 11 years, but she continued as an adult, going to three different colleges to get her bachelor’s degree in the Classical Civilization and on to England to get her master’s degree in Aegean Prehistory. Studying the ancient poets, she grew to envy the celebrations of their intimacy with nature.
She kept on traveling, working as an interpreter and writer for the National Park Service and the Smithsonian Institution, acquiring a vast amount of information as she honed her capabilities as a writer. Studying Latin and Greek taught her how to think, so she knew what to do with the knowledge she’d acquired.
Still and all, she needed a place, as Virginia Woolf wrote, A Room of One’s Own. The first room of her own was in her heart, a faith she acquired through the Roman Catholic Church and then in a house she shares with her husband, Tom, out off Lake Mary Road on the edge of the forest. Once she had a room of her own, she acquired A Room with a View, to use the title of E.M. Forster’s novel.
Beginning as a wildlife biologist Tom morphed into a wildlife photographer. His photographs, taken in front of their house, are featured for January and February in the Arizona Highways 2011 Wildlife Calendar.
The homily of a priest finally affirmed her ease with Roman Catholicism. “The greatest heresies are prejudice and bitterness because they close our hearts to one another and to love.” As Susan says, faith has given her a room with a view.
What a room and what a view! Perched on the lip of a draw in the Fay Canyon wilderness, Susan and Tom have the wild at their front door; however, their view is unique. As wildlife naturalists, they see nature as a sacrament in which a divine Presence emerges from the flux and flow of nature with a sense of the holy without the trappings of holiness.
The garden is fashioned after the wilderness: a rock garden with plants drawn from the forest. As the garden flows around the house, at each of its three levels, a wilderness garden is at the door. To understand the garden one must first understand the house.
Just beyond the entryway, a simply framed complex of rooms leads the eye to a top to bottom, clear across one side of the house, window of panes. On the left are the kitchen and dining rooms and a few steps straight ahead lead down to an airy living room. The rich wood of the walls with their Native American artifacts and wildlife art create a perfect setting to view the forest and the draw.
The gardens around the house are transitional spaces between the house and the forest where one can pass from the pleasant confines of the rooms into the mystery of nature.
Susan’s garden is not static, but evolving and emerging. She speaks of plants “traveling” from one part of the garden to another and of offspring “thriving” while parents and grandparents fade and disappear. The catalogue of plants seems without number, but a few are pussytoes, blanket flower, Woods rose, pennycress, St. Johns wort, golden columbine, quaking aspen, and Gambel oak. A few paces down slope, the “rabbitat,” a rock warren built by Tom provides a safe haven for the rabbits. The fact is that her garden is actually the forest and meadows where the geologist’s sense of “deep time,” the aeons it has taken to grow the garden, emerge as a sacrament of the Creator of “all things visible and invisible.”
Susan and Tom have recently written a book on their journey following the footsteps of Santa Francis: The Natural World of Saint Francis of Assisi. Susan writes, “To understand the natural world―to love its landforms and life forms―makes sacred ground of everywhere we are.”
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010
Photographs courtesy of Susan and Tom Bean.