As if on cue, Phoebe returned in a clean dress wearing a sunhat the size of a fruit bowl.
“I’m going to help you pick out your plants,” she said.
Bypassing the local stores, we headed to the university’s arboretum sale where I learned we were too late for either very exotic and popular plants but could make a nice garden of herbs and flowers each, according to Phoebe, enhanced by powers I’d probably need at this “transition point” in my life.
“What makes you think I’m at a transition point?” I asked.
“You’ve moved from a big city to a small one. If you were in Tuscaloosa as a student, I wouldn’t think much of it but you’re not. That suggests you’re retreating somehow.”
“I’m not sure retreating is the right word, or maybe I just wouldn’t want to admit defeat. I consider this move a kind of sidestep. I want to breathe a little.”
She nodded. “Not too much, though. Small places can suck you up and university towns can be dangerous.”
She stopped picking at a basil long enough to answer slowly. “Too few people of the kind you want to know. Too many cocktail parties. The changes here are shallow. But don’t ask me what I mean by that because I don’t know. Do you know the word ‘churn?’”
I nodded, taking the plant from her. I thought of the coast line at home on Long Island and the rougher shells and pebbles that bounced and beat against my feet when I stood too long in the shallow water.
“University towns have a lot of churn,” she said.
The secret to change, said Phoebe, once we were back at Monnish Court, is intent.
Per her direction, I planted the following in short rows:
· chamomile for headaches
· marjoram to banish sadness
· lavender to see ghosts and “attract men for sexual purposes”
· rosemary, which, when worn on the head, helps memory, wards off thieves, protects travelers when crossing the sea, alerts the mind and zings up a pot roast
· Oregano for pizza, lemon balm to help stop one from dreaming and thyme for purification and the curing of nightmares.
· Sage for cooking, healing and prosperity.
· Yarrow: “Where the yarrow grows, there is one who knows. Love for seven years.”
I’d take that seven. It would be more than I’ve had so far.
· Basil: to inhale!
Change and prayer require effort. I have come to believe that prayer and power are the same. Both require effort, intent. Neither should be used for evil. As I was arranging and re-arranging, Elizabeth (aka Mrs. Moth) walked across the large and shabby lawn at the center of Monnish Court to stand behind and watch me. (Really, if you want to make friends, buy a dog and plant a garden---you will be overwhelmed.)
Mrs. Moth is a frail and convalescing ghost, stick arms and dowager hump. Her skin and hair are faintly purple. She reminds me of a ficcus I kept that never flourished, but somehow survived.
She handed me a small foxglove in a plastic pot. I don’t smile easily, but this gift raised one. The foxgloves were the hardest to find at the Arboretum sale and I thought I’d lost my chance to have one. They are very southern, gorgeous and seem to reward both abuse and neglect.
“Find a place where it will get full sun,” she said watching me with a critical eye. She’s either been a gardener or a high school teacher. “Blooms like bells,” she said.
As a result of this gift, I changed the shape of the plot from a rectangle to an arch and placed the foxglove in the center.