Posts Tagged: Lorna crozier

Gates

1.

Image by photosforyou from Pixabay

I’m reading Through the Garden by Lorna Crozier, the Canadian poet, writer, teacher—this woman has worked hard at her craft for decades, and it shows in whatever I might write after her name. She uses a mix of memoir and poetry to portray a passionate marriage with another writer, Patrick Lane. His death is the framework on which she’s told the story of their life together (with cats).

She stopped me cold with her thoughts on gates.

All gates herald a transition: a movement from outer to inner and back again, a passage to something that needs protection from invaders, a step into a space defined as different and more valued than what is on the other side. They’re an invitation but also an impediment. Signalling a need for privacy, this gate would make visitors pause, hesitate, delay, before they walked through. Some might choose to turn around and not enter the private enclosure presaged by such an imposing construction. Just as well. Something is being protected, secluded, differentiated from what’s on the other side. Something is being sanctified. Is the time we have left what is being sheltered? Isn’t there a holiness to our diminishing days?

Yes, I thought, yes, that’s it, that’s perfect.

As his health failed, she and her husband commissioned a Torii- style gate built with special timbers that required curing, and a complex hand-forged latch that took months to arrive. They were intentional about the design and construction, making it perfect as if as if they had all the time in the world. They did not, of course, but that was no deterrent.

*

When I bought this house in 1988, there were two gates into the backyard. The fence on the east side stretched between my neighbor’s sturdy, enviable, indestructible cyclone fence and my house. My fence’s gate was originally wide enough to allow the entrance of a vehicle, but the growth of trees eventually blocked the path. That fence/gate combo blew down, and then it fell down, so I leaned it against the house with a shrug and carried on with my life.

On the west side of the house was a narrower span of fence, also with a gate. It connected to the house on one side and on the other, a post planted right next to a big, thriving, shiny-leaved laurel hedge. Those laurel hedges really grow. They grow and grow and grow! Eventually, this hedge ate the gate.

So much for my gates.

*

You might wonder, is my yard open? No, not really. The east side is currently gated with a really shabby combo of sagging wire fence and a hinged panel from a portable dog yard. Some sagging wire fencing runs around the west side and joins up with my back neighbor’s sagging wire fence to create a putative barrier we call “the dog fence.” So technically, my back yard is both fenced and “gated,” with materials that do very little to keep out the wildlife that wants in.

The fence is only tall enough to impede very small dogs with no interest in athletic leaping. I have no dogs, but I keep it for my grand-dog, Marlowe. He inspects the fence boundaries when he visits. He reinforces ownership with liberal marking.

It’s a lot of work to create a scent barrier, especially now that he’s getting older, but he does his best to let the coyotes, raccoons, skunks and rodents know that the yard belongs to us. He understands this part of Lorna Crozier’s words: All gates herald a transition: a movement from outer to inner and back again, a passage to something that needs protection from invaders, a step into a space defined as different and more valued than what is on the other side.

I appreciate him. He is our protector.

*

Oddly, these crappy gates and fences don’t bother me. With all the critters out there, you’d think I’d be interested in having a fenced back yard, but instead, I want to fence off a little space between my house and garage. This is the area I see when I sit on my postage-stamp-sized front porch. It has vexed me from the beginning, when it was a small grassy slope with a three-foot high maple tree.

Over the years, I tried different ways to make this space into something besides a shaded place that was impossible to mow. I planted many bushes that died in this space, and also many flowers that died. The only thing that’s grown is the maple tree, which is now over thirty feet tall. We are continuously hacking off limbs to keep it from ruining the new roofs.

Even though it’s currently a mess (let’s face it, my entire yard is always a mess), I have come to love this space. I hired an absolutely insane woman to build me a retaining wall here, and even though the dirt is bad and the maple is a gutter-clogging, roof-ruining nuisance, it pleases me. I sit on the porch and look at the planters full of weeds and the weeds poking up through the gravel beds and the weeds growing in the pile of decorative rocks I have yet to spread and…I smile. I imagine all sorts of things I could do to improve it, and I never do those things.

I even had the idea to build a fence on its far side, a fence that would stretch between the front corner of the house and the back corner of the garage, connecting them to enhance the sense of enclosure. The east side (where my porch is) would remain completely open. The fence would make it nice and cozy. I would want a gate there, too, a pretty gate that would lead into this half-finished area of wrack and ruin.

I explained this to my oldest daughter, excitedly sketching out my ideas, and she listened. When I finished, she simply asked, “Why?”

I really couldn’t come up with a good answer.

*

My daughter’s question is a valid one. It’s a needed interrogation of a flawed idea that appears to hold no value at all, because there’s nothing on the other side of this imaginary fence and gate. Just that tremendous laurel hedge and a strip of weedy gravel (I specialize in weedy gravel, it’s my landscape design signature). I’m not sure why this area would need to be reached through a gate that literally no one would ever walk through.

No one walks around over there besides the owner of the laurel hedge on his yearly trek to keep it trimmed. He owns the property next door, where the hedge originates. He used to ignore my side of it, and it cost a lot to have it cut, so I could only have it trimmed every few years (hence, it ate the gate). I think he became afraid that I would cut it back to the property line, which would possibly kill it. So he took over trimming, which is fine, but there’s always that awkward space of time when I can see him in my back yard on the other side of the dog fence, clipping away.

This is awkward because he is awkward. I am the opposite of awkward, but I stopped saying hello to him because he is so pained by me. He’s never once made eye contact, let alone had a conversation with me. Luckily, I got married five years ago and he will speak to my husband. His big conversational gambit was, “Are you the property owner?” Apparently the property had no owner during the previous decades, but there’s a man here now, so whatever.

When he’s in the backyard, I close the shades.

*

Back to my idea of a fence and a gate. I still want my gate, which leaves me over here grasping for an explanation.

I think it has to do with this part of Lorna Crozier’s thoughts on gates. They’re an invitation but also an impediment. Signalling a need for privacy, this gate would make visitors pause, hesitate, delay, before they walked through. Some might choose to turn around and not enter the private enclosure presaged by such an imposing construction. Just as well. Something is being protected, secluded, differentiated from what’s on the other side.

Protected, secluded, differentiated. I think I understand. What’s on the other side is just…me. I would be inside this gate. I am less concerned with what’s without than what’s within. The gate would not be there to keep anyone out. It wouldn’t enclose a secret garden, because gardens need weeding and I’m clearly terrible at that. But it would feel protected, I think. A different kind of garden. The gate would be there to enclose me, to mark off and protect a place I love.

Who knows.

It might even sanctify the holiness of my diminishing days.