Monday, December 29, 2014
"The purest of human pleasures"
Saturday it hit 50 degrees, and there was only one thing I really wanted to do: go walking in the Chicago Botanic Garden. Because really, when will we have another 50 degree day to be outside in? Next March? Could be.
My wife and have been members of the Botanic Garden for years. We go every week or two and never get tired of visiting. It's always different, always new and interesting, as you don't see it all during any one visit, and the seasons are always cycling through, and the staff is always planting new things. I've never been bored there, or sorry I came. Not once. Even in February, when its cold, and snow-covered, the place has an empty, white, severe beauty.
Plus there's exercise, people-watching, exhibits, a lovely little shop, and of course conversation. On Sunday, we got to talking, as we do, and my wife mentioned that, once the boys are both away at school, we'll have more time to travel more, and should think about visiting other botanic gardens.
I had the exact same thought, over the summer, when we visited Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, on Kent's college tour, and spent an hour or two in Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 55 acres of plants and lakes and flower beds, right on campus, which was also gorgeous, but in different ways: being Southern, there were unfamiliar or unexpected plants: a field of bamboo, for instance (which, for some reason, visitors had scrawled over. Nowhere else in the garden; just the bamboo grove. A puzzlement).
Exploring Duke, I had thought, "I love the Chicago Botanic Garden, but it's a nice change of pace to poke around somewhere else. We should probably seek them out." Then I pulled back from that thought, almost frightened. There seemed something terribly defeated and aged about that. Some men travel the world, creating art, making fortunes, conducting matters of great importance and urgency. Me, I'll be traveling to parks, gawping at plants.
Or, even worse, hoping to.
Well, too late for regret now. Nothing to be guilty about—it isn't just me. "God Almighty first planted a garden," wrote Francis Bacon in 1625. "It is the purest of human pleasures."
So with both the Divine and Francis Bacon on my side, if wandering gardens is what I like, then wander gardens and the hell with how it looks. If people can put on furry animal suits and attend conventions, then what shame can there be in going to collected nature? You have to accept things as they are. I could never figure out how to become an International Man of Mystery, and it's a little late now. To be honest, I'm not even sure how to go about finding other worthwhile botanic gardens around the country. I plugged "Most Beautiful Gardens in North America" into Google and got a top 10 list from USA Today. Duke wasn't even on it (but the Chicago Botanic Garden was!) It's kind of hard to tell from the photos on that list. The garden in Vancouver seemed exceptional but that's about it.
What do you say, Hive? Any insights? What are your favorite places, garden-wise? Or am I the first person to consider such a fool's errand, to travel places just to go to their noted gardens? There's a fresh new year, only a few days away, and we need to come up with plans to help make the idea of a whole entire year to get through at least a little palatable.