Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Day at the Pinetum

When I was 12, I decided that I needed to see some castles. Looking back now, I'm surprised I didn't become a historical romance writer, all my setting in ancient Europe, drawbridges and moats and dragons. Seriously, at 12, I had a jones for castles!

I had been reading about them in Gothic novels for years, and I determined was high time to get a map together of all the spots I needed to see. I brought out the family atlas and commenced to draw.

Never mind that my family wasn't planning a trip to England nor could it afford to. I was undaunted in my drawing, though, and I wish I still had that little map of England, sadly misshaped and out of proportion but labeled clearly with all I knew I had to visit.

Many years later, I traveled to England twice. The first trip was one during a very cold Christmas break, and my family and I took buses to various spots, shivering in our timbers, staring out through the mists at Stonehenge and Bath and Canterbury. We went to the London Tower and all available old buildings in London, but it wasn't until a trip the following summer that I was able to see my beloved castles. Hastings, Bodiam, Scotney (my favorite, so charming, with a warning to "beware the moat"), Dover, and Hever, so many that finally, my boys cried for something other than the damn castles, and we went to Lego Land in Windsor, skipping the damn castle there.

But my favorite memory ended up not being at a castle at all. In fact there were many excursions that I loved for their simple pleasures: the K &E, SR railway trip to Bodiam Castle, the swim in the English Chanel while at the rocky beach in Hastings, the fish and chips in Rye, the small village of Battle, the petting zoo in Kent, wherein we met the giant pig.

Yet it was Bedgebury that I loved the most, the National Pinetum and forest garden. Pinetum--a label so much better than pine garden or collection of conifers. But a pine garden it was, an amazing forest of thousands of trees, winding through a green as green could be. As I walked, I could imagine all the characters I'd ever red about in Gothic novels fleeing something, someone, each other, many of them wearing nightgowns. I could see the characters from English literature sitting comfortably on the grass. Probably Austen's folk would have loved a picnic there, not to mention Forster's.

Wandering in silence, looking at the trees, I felt at peace. It's hard to say that I was unhappy while spending three weeks in Kent, but I was irritable, something itching me in a place I could not identify. Was it the novel I was soon to write and try to sell? Was it that my marriage was soon to have it's hardest moment? Was it that just a half a year from that walk in the Pinetum, my older son was going to go through a teen-aged time that would effect us all to the core?

I knew none of that then, no inkling of my life coming unhinged that summer in 1999.

I suppose I could have had that moment of peace at home I suppose, outside wandering in natural beauty. But despite my unease, I was in a place of bounty and beauty, a green world of my imagination but real, too. Characters ran around, my life ceased to pester, the birds overhead sang.

Later, we would go to another castle, another museum, but there, right then, I was in a cocoon of green, a nature I'd only imagined lulling me for an hour, keeping me from what was to come. Even my 12-year-old castle crazy self was satisfied.

Jessica Barksdale Inclan

1 comment:

marybelle said...

Pinetum is a lovely word. Castles do have such an allure & draw.