Yesterday I spent the afternoon and evening preparing for, and enjoying a memorial for Elsa Bakalar, my friend, neighbor, colleague, and garden mentor who passed away in January at the age of 91. The flowers at the buffet supper in Jan and Cal’s party barn were provided by The Passionate Gardeners, Mary, Susan and Eileen, gardeners who had come to learn from Elsa, and continued to help her in her garden- until that garden had to be given up.
Many people did their part for Elsa yesterday. Scott Prior and his wife, Nanny Vonnegut, who own and maintain ‘Elsa’s Garden’ in Heath, invited neighbors and family for a tour and champagne toast to a beloved relative and friend. Cousin Stan read a section of Kipling’s poem Glory of the Garden with that famous line, “such gardens are not made
By singing:–“Oh, how beautiful!” and sitting in the shade . . .” Then we all trooped over to Jan and Cal’s barn, surrounded by a beautiful garden, for a feast organized by Elsa’s nephew Jake and his wife Susan. Chief among this group were Elsa’s former grade school students, honorary daughters, Marie and Nicole who took major responsibilities for Elsa’s care in the years after her husband’s death in 2000.
A special treat of the evening was listening to a recording Nicole had made of Elsa reading the opening chapter of Dicken’s Bleak House. Elsa read Great Expectations to her fifth and sixth grade class every year – a wonderful choice for students at that age – and Elsa was wonderful reader. It must be admitted that the sound of a loved one’s voice is evocative and heart breaking.
Today is Muse Day. I had forgotten, but a friend emailed me a poem by Mary de la Valette this morning that seemed serendipitous. Kipling noted in his poem that “Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees.” A very young Nicole who spent her summers with Elsa in her ‘summer camp’ found that she could have Elsa all to herself if she joined her in the garden while everyone else still slept. One morning she asked Elsa if she liked teaching or gardening better. Without hesitation Elsa answered “gardening.” It may have surprised and angered young Nicole who wanted to be much more important to her beloved teacher than an old garden, but it is clear to me that the garden was a sacred place for Elsa.
I do not have to go
To Sacred Places
In far-off lands.
The ground I stand on
Here, in this little garden
My pilgrimage ends.
The wild honeybees
The hummingbird moths
The flickering fireflies at dusk
Are a microcosm
Of the Universe.
Each seed that grows
Each spade of soil
Is full of miracles.
And I toil and sweat
And watch and wonder
And am full of love.
Living in place
In this place.
For truth and beauty
I thank Carolyngail for making me stop and consider other muses the first day of every month.
This Post Has 7 Comments
What a touching story and poem, Pat and what a great life your friend and neighbor lived. She was so lucky to have such good friends and neighbors to remember her with such a wonderful tribute.
Thanks so much for sharing.
What a wonderful tribute to Elsa in your Muse Day post. No doubt her memorial service was filled with apt observations and delightful memories, but this is a lovely and graceful recollection of what it is to be a gardener, wherever and however one can dig and nurture. You thanks to Carolyngail underscores the bonds of you glorious few, trowel in hand, who minister to, and bring out the best of Mother’s Nature. So… thank you, too, Pat.
You were so blessed to have Elsa in your life. After my Mother died I can remember being taken aback when I stumbled upon a video of Mother’s birthday and when she spoke I cried. I have not watched it again. She died 18 years ago this month. Sigh~~ I love this poem. I am so glad you posted it.
What a wonderful tribute to your friend and mentor, Pat. Just last week I was catching up on some magazine reading and saw an article about Elsa’s garden in the last issue of “Horticulture.” Her gardens are beautiful, and it’s so nice that her memory is being kept alive in them as well as through the legacy she left to other gardeners.
Carolyn – Elsa did indeed live life fully – in and out of the garden.
Flaneur – With trowel in one hand and friendship in the other, gardeners improve the life of their friends – and their communities.
Lisa – I am blessed to have known Elsa – and I treasure being able to hear that voice again. I understand why people keep answering machine messages after a loved one has died.
Rose – I’m glad you saw the article in Horticulture Magazine. On their website (Hortmag.com)they put up a pdf file of the article I wrote with Elsa about color in the garden, published in 1987.
This is a beautiful post Pat! What a lovely way to celebrate Elsa and our poem selection is moving and universal. Thank you for sharing it and Elsa’s day.
OOps that was to be Your!