Monday, July 18, 2011

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (7/18/2011)

Suzannah and Andrew Libby’s garden is reminiscent of Vincent Van Gogh’s Memory of the Garden at Etten and his Gardens at Arles. Serendipitously, Van Gogh is Suzannah’s favorite painter. When I first saw the garden, the morning was clear. The sky was one of Flagstaff’s breathless blues, deep and true, and the temperature was comfortably warm though slightly chilly around the edges. Sitting under a canopy seemingly suspended in midair, we drank tea and talked. And a pleasure it was to talk with an intelligent and gifted woman: an artist, a gardener, and a lover of children.

Suzannah envisions her garden as a canvas on which she has created a series of isles, not just plots, but raised islands floating in a sea of green grass amongst stream beds of smooth pebbles. Looming above the canopy is a venerable maple and toward the back of the garden is an immense willow along with fruit trees, both new and old.

Near the front is a bed, called the fairie garden, surrounded by a mud and wattle fence, the mud concrete and the wattle thin sticks of bamboo. Looking like some kind of primitive dwelling with walls slightly askew and out of kilter, the bed is filled with berries, herbs, and flowers, a pot-pourri of tastes, sights, and aromas of lavender, mint, and lemon balm.

Further down the garden isles of color are strewn with yellow primroses and black-eyed Susans, others day lilies and red poppies, and still others harebells. With few straight lines one is drawn further down a wandering path to find something new just beyond the next turn.

At the beginning of the garden, the light is bright and clear as though there were a giant hole in the sky. Slowly, as the eye tracks toward the rear, the light becomes more dappled, and finally in the back it is shaded and dark. It is as though one were being gradually drawn into a shadowed mystery.

Suzannah, herself, is something of a mystery. Her life has not been a straight line, but one resembling her garden. Raised in Las Vegas, her father was contractor with an artistic flair, building their swimming pool with a huge red rose painted on the bottom of the pool. From there she went to the University of California at Santa Barbara to study art and then on to the Parsons School of Design in New York City. After a peripatetic and painterly journey as an artist, she landed in Portland, Maine, where she met her husband, Andrew, an artist in wood and music. Their daughter Lovenia was born in Portland.

Wanting to be near her family, they settled on Flagstaff which recalled the woods of Maine. They also wanted a place where they belonged. After a life of wandering exploration, they wanted rootedness.

Close to completing her bachelor’s degree in Integrative Art from Prescott College, she has found her purpose as an artist as well as a place to fulfill that purpose. She creaated a children’s garden pre-school, called Gartendale, modeled after the Waldorf approach to education of Rudolf Steiner. Small children learn by experience, instead of concepts and ideas: thus a garden becomes a school room in which a child experiences nature at every turn.

What better place for this kind of education than a child’s garden of isles? It is an education through touching, feeling, smelling, seeing, digging, and exploring. The happiest memories of many adults are often those explorations as children of gardens or a wilderness along with family members. Those early experiences are also the shaping ones, ones that began lives of exploration, of finding out, of taking care, of traveling through the shadowed mysteries. A garden is where we connect with the fundamentals.

Suzannah and Andrew’s garden leads the eye from light, touch, color, and aroma to those of shadows of what is yet to be known of outer space, inner minds, and the immensity of life. What better grounding for such a journey is there than smelling herbs, picking the berries, enjoying the flowers, and playing in the dirt?

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Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011

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