Friday, May 2, 2008

A Sense of Place

Emily's gardens are enhanced by a backdrop of ruins. Contoured greenery rolls from her house, down the hill, to where the old hotel once stood. Her gardens lace her backyard with waves of yellow. We looked out together at the scene. As an historian, I was entranced with the place. I pictured train loads of city dwellers traveling up to rural Lyndeborough for weekend get-aways. As the United States left the Victorian era, heading toward World War One, flappers, and Depression, Americans sought comfort in the New Hampshire mountainous regions.

I interviewed Emily last year for my book, "The Gardener's Soul." I spent this morning working on a small footnote for the book related to her hotel ruin. At the Manchester City Library I found two local history books referencing the old place. I also read that many of Lyndeborough's records have been lost to time. Typical. Fire, neglect, and misplacement often create great gaps in the historical record. As an archivist, I spent many years trying to fill the gaps to assist my patrons with their historical searches. As a writer, I know enough to expect the gaps, but am disappointed nonetheless. I shall call the town offices in Lyndeborough and the NH Historical Society on Monday to see if they have additional information, but I am not hopeful.

I know who built the hotel and when it burned down based on the local history books, but do any original records about this place exist? How much of our sense of place is based on historical fact? How much is based on legend? Emily told me what she knew, but where did she get her information? How much of our sense of place is based on what we feel when we stand there and what we see with our own eyes? Why should a gardener care about the history of their landscape?

In "A Place to Remember: Using History to Build Community," Robert Archibald discusses how history is a unifying discipline that can help us understand who we are and how we got here.
He states:
"So, there is a point to history, for history is a process of facilitating conversations in which we consider what we have done well, what we have done poorly, and how we can do better, conversations that are a prelude to action. If the past has enduring meaning and implications, then we as historians must become active conservators: of artifacts and stories and community, of life on this earth and thus implicitly of this earth that sustains life. As we face the past, we are also facing the future." (p.24-25)

So, my two seemingly disparate interests in history and gardening come together naturally as I learn other people's gardening stories and read about the gardening practiced by our ancestors. Though gardening is easily recognized as a scientific discipline and often as an artistic one, and though all gardeners can relate that gardening makes them feel "good," the history of the landscape is overlooked. It should not be. Recognizing that mankind's history is tied to his surroundings makes the cycle of life and nature more poignant. Science, art, history, and the ethereal all play a part in the gardening experience to bring alive a sense of place. We should recognize the benefit of combining all the disciplines. Together they help us make sense of our surroundings and round out the gardening experience. A place like Emily's where history smacks you in the fact with the historical remnants of buildings is magical, but we should see that all landscapes have a historical past to be valued.

1 comment:

Barbee' said...

Melissa, this is an excellent article. I enjoyed it very much. I wrote a history of this garden on my web site. I had been toying with the idea to copy and post it in the blog. Fearing it is too long and probably boring, I hesitate. Your post has almost convinced me to go forward with the idea whether anyone reads it or not.