Karla Sanders
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Garden of Cyprus

 

Garden of Cyprus

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A tribute to a beautiful garden in Cyprus, which helped inspire my poem Garden of Paradise, also seen on my blog. The poem is below, but first the story and dedication.

Not long after I came to Cyprus last year I befriended a family who tend a large garden with over 500 trees, mostly young olive trees. Mixed in are also fig, almond and a few other types of fruit trees. Their garden is more like a small farm, complete with chickens, vegetables, tractor and other signs of rural life. I was looking for a way to work closely with nature and their invitation to help out on the land was a great opportunity.

It all began with that timeless task of weeding; pulling grass under a still hot October sky kept me busy for many hours as I distinguished blades of grass from young garlic and olive sprouts. They don’t use chemicals on their land so much of this work is done by hand.

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Over the months I joined in a number of activities, not only weeding but also helping with the trees and other labors. So often I came home covered in sweat and soil or sheep manure, sometimes even my own blood from rough rocks or thorns that caught me off guard. Sometimes I vented my own frustrations and turmoil into the forgiving earth, as I pulled hard at grass and even watered them with my own tear or two. I learned why people find peace in the motions of garden labor.

For the first time in my life I connected with our natural world in a way that hiking through so many forests, national parks and mountains could never allow me to connect. It is one thing to take a walk among trees and quite another to care for them; pulling off snails, digging invasive grass from their roots so they can breathe, forming irrigation pools at their base, feeding them manure, and making sure they’re getting enough water.

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Most recently I helped gather some olives, and I realized it has been almost a full year since I first set foot in this land. What a gift it has been to watch the cycle of life from season to season. There is such a rhythm of growth and death, the events of the garden mimic the patterns of nature across all the world.

All the while there are people present to nurture this growth in the garden. I came to see how it brought my family friends together, not only in the work but also in sharing the joyful rewards and low points too. The delight of seeing new plants grow, the exhausting moments of finishing a long day in the field, and even the tragedy of losing some beloved farm animals are all moments that connect people with each other and the land.

And so I created this piece not only to honor a place where I have learned many lessons, but also to illustrate how those who work with the land are bonded. Everything you see in this piece is a part of the story that has brought my friends together. They have eagerly watched the growth of their artichokes over time, pointed with great enthusiasm at the owls who come out nightly, warned each other of giant wasp-like insects hovering on flowers of tall weeds, admired the swallows who built a nest in their home, tended hundreds of fruit trees, nursed their chickens, pulled thousands of snails from plants, laughed at sheep, looked to the sky for rain, and together, pulled fresh almonds from their biggest almond tree. I could have chosen from so many other scenes in my mind, they whirl together in a sea of memory.

Below I share one of many poems inspired by the garden, perhaps it can explain better what simple sentences cannot.

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Garden of Paradise

I stepped into the sea
and no water touched me
Around my ankles, waves of grass
green shades rippled beneath a winter’s wind

On that day it was a gentle breeze
the field transformed into swathes of silk
light broke through looming clouds
bathing us all with warmth 

Is this winter in Cyprus?
If so, it must be heaven too
For reaching into the vibrant sky,
I saw shades of every color 

Blossoms with arms spread open
Pedals of violet shades blushing
Some hidden in the tangle of grass,
others rising with pride

Look at me, they seem to say
Yet a humbler form of life
one could not find. 
These gentle species ask for nothing 

They live and grow and die
there in that garden
blessing us with their beauty for some time
then laying down as we all will 

So the ones who come next may also flourish
and flourish they do.
In this garden of paradise, 
one can never grow bored. 

For in each step
there is a surprise. 
What creature is this?
What leaf is this?

What scent is this?
And so on and so forth
The plants,
they call. 

Suddenly swallows swoop by
A small animal scurries away there
A sharp trill from a songbird
So close her sound seems 

yet far away on a branch she sits
trusting her wings
trusting her voice
No one questions her place

She may fly wherever she wishes  
Here in the garden of paradise
Man can find peace nurturing living things
rather than destroying things 

He can exist with ones who do not judge
Every day they greet him the same
with quiet strength
with a promise

Give me your loving hand
and I will give you life
Here in the garden of paradise
Man learns patience 

A day spent in labor
is always rewarded
Here in the garden of paradise
Man learns gratitude 

For without the small miracles at every turn
there would be nothing
the water feeds the soil
the soil feeds the seed

the seed feeds the bird
the bird feeds back to the soil
plants grow
A harvest erupts 

Oh how she erupts!
Vegetables and fruits of every size
Every color and taste
How can a man not feel grateful

knowing how fragile these miracles are
Take away one piece of this puzzle
and paradise is not the same
sometimes, 

it is not more
So we take our time to love her
the land and all she is
a harmonic collage of miracles 

Grass swaying to the breath of earth
if we do not listen to this voice
we are lost
That is why time in the garden of paradise
is the most precious gift of all
For there is where real life happens
and there is where we must learn
how to live. 

 
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