Sweet Thyme Baby – 13

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

13

(Start at the Beginning of Sweet Thyme Baby)

(Click here to read Section 12 first)

 

In the orchard Sam Green asked, “How much fruit do you get off these trees?”

 

“We pick enough to sell all summer long in Sharon’s market. We have nectarines and peaches now, more than we know what to do with. And in the winter there are oranges, of course. The Meyer lemons bloom all year.”

 

“Everything but apples, I guess.”

 

“Actually, we do have a few old trees on the other side of the Cloud Forest. That’s where the lilacs grow too. It freezes a couple of times every winter. Just in that one little spot.”

 

He looked like he didn’t believe her.

 

They passed through the bent willow gate at the back of the orchard and walked through the wildflower meadow.

 

“Jesus, look at the bees.”

 

The meadow hummed as hundreds of bees dipped and darted between California poppies and clumps of tissuey white Matilijas, yellow deer weed with cerise vetch clinging to it, yarrow, lobelia cardinalis, cistus, and swathes of yellow and white Caltrans daisies.

 

Dee pointed at stacks of hives fifty feet off the path. “We sell honey, too.”

 

“These days it’s really rare to see so many in one place all at once.”

 

“The honey is wonderful. I’ll get Maggie to give you a jar.”

 

They walked on, and the path entered an area of deep shade and led alongside a stream bordered by ferns and clumps of lilies.

 

“If you tell me these lilies grow here naturally –.”

 

“Carlotta started them years ago.  Almost everything naturalizes in the garden.”

 

Sam dropped to his knees before a clump of white flowers. “I can’t believe this.” He looked up at Dee. “Do you know what you’ve got here?”

 

Dee shrugged. “Trillium.”

 

“That’s what I thought and by the way, trillium growing wild in coastal Southern California is unusual by itself, but look at this.” He grabbed Dee’s hand and pulled her down beside him. “There are close to fifty species of trillium in this country and they’re all pretty much the same. Main difference is size and color. But look here.” He gently bent the stem. “Trillium have three leaves that meet at the base. But this one, has three and then underneath, three more. See there? Tiny ones, vestigial, the size of sour bugs.”

 

He stood up, brushed his palms on his pants leg and helped Dee to her feet. “I think you might have a new species here. I’d say it was maybe a throwback to an earlier variety except there’s a dozen the same right in this spot.”

 

“Maybe it’s not trillium.”

 

“Maybe.” He grinned. “I’m a bug guy. What do I know, huh?”

 

He walked on with his long arms swinging at his sides and his head bent forward like Carlotta tracking ants back to their nest. Dee smiled, thinking there was something gawky and adolescent about him. He talked about plant varieties and rain forests and extinction as they walked. She listened half way, groping to understand what he meant, lost in the terms that were technical and unfamiliar.

 

“This place should be studied,” Sam said. “By someone who knows his stuff. Besides the trillium, I’ve seen two very peculiar fungi and you see that moss up there? I’m almost certain it’s related to a variety I saw in Ecuador that the natives use medicinally.” He folded his arms across his chest and looked at her. “Miss Larue, can I ask you why you’re keeping this garden a secret?”

 

“It’s not a secret. It’s just private.”

 

Over the years the Ryan’s garden had been visited by many scientists and super-gardeners who had heard it spoken of in awed adjectives. Con was happy to escort them through the orchards and meadows but they never got as far as the Cloud Forest. On these outings, the borders of the garden seemed to shrink and the traffic sounds were an irritant. It soon became apparent to most visitors that the garden was nice but not spectacular. Con took them to see the ponds but all they saw was hollows of dry ground though the next day ducks would be floating there.

 

“Oh it’s a rare garden indeed,” Con Ryan would say and do a little jig.. “Indeed ‘tis a marvelous rare garden we’re keeping.”

 

When Sam and Dee passed the pond, there were ducks and a fish jumped, catching the sunlight.

 

“Holy crap,” Sam said.  “Where does the water come from?”

 

“Springs in the Cloud Forest. We have wells.”

 

The path curved ahead of them, mottled in the yellow sunlight filtered through the canopy. Bright, dark, bright, dark. Dim. Now overhead, fog hung in the branches like scalloped gauze. Further along the path inclined through a stand of hemlock, spruce and red cedar. On the rhododendron and azalea and ferns, moisture sparkled and the soil squished beneath the stranger’s booted feet. It was more than a year since Dee had walked in the Cloud Forest. Mostly she stayed away but today she let Sam lead the way.

 

The garden seemed to want it that way.

 

*

 

“I don’t believe what I’m seeing. I feel like I’ve walked into a…” He looked at Dee. ”I’ve never been anywhere like this. Except…” He shook his head. “…well, in the Northwest, of course, in the rain forest.”

 

“I agree with Maggie.” Dee wrapped her arms around herself. “There’s something…wrong about it.”

 

“Damn right it’s wrong.” His laugh seemed out of place, like hilarity in a church. He cut it short. “It’s a total impossibility. It shouldn’t be here. It’s not a forest, of course. More like a grove. How many trees you think?”

 

“It’s hard to tell about the garden. It has a way of …”

 

“What?”

 

“Sometimes parts of it seem much bigger than you know they can be. It’s like an optical illusion, I guess.” She held out her hands as if she could part the trees. “Once in a while a vista will open up and you can see a long way off and it’s … different.”

 

“How?”

 

“Not like San Diego. Not like California.”

 

The man sat down on a fallen log cushioned in parsley moss.

 

“I suppose it’s possible, all this, the ferns. Given the coastal fog and the springs.” He nodded. “Yeah, it must be the springs.”  Around him azaleas and rhododendrons dipped their heavy flower heads. “These things – the flowers, the trees – they aren’t supposed to grow like this. Not here. This garden shouldn’t exist at this latitude and in this climate. Whoever laid all this out was a brilliant horticulturist.”

 

“I don’t know anything about it,” Dee said. “Con Ryan’s brother won the land in a card game, I think.”

 

Sam laughed and tossed up his big hands like he was sowing seeds. “Why not?”

 

“I have to go back,” Dee pointed ahead toward sunshine. “That’s the Sea Meadows. We’ll go that way.”

 

In a moment they emerged from the forest onto the swathe of grassland and wild mustard that ran from the woods down to the bluffs. The sun was out and the breeze blew stiff and chill and salty.  Dee looked behind. In the Cloud Forest, scarves of mist, gauzy and delicate as spider webbing, snagged in the tree tops.

 

Sam said, “This is Southern California, ocean front property. It ought to be back-to-back townhouses.”

 

To see the expression on his face, Dee – who was tall and accustomed to looking at men eye to eye — had to tip her head back.  Even now, when she thought she had immunity to all men, Sam Green’s size registered as an attractive quality. No sooner had it done so than she caught her thought, twisted it around and listed reasons why she didn’t like him. He laughed too much; and his awe of the garden was so straightforward it had to be either naïve or deceitful. She was suspicious of his niceness.

 

She walked ahead. “The land isn’t for sale.” She heard his footsteps on the dry path and walked faster. Legs longer than hers took longer strides.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

 

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