No person in their right mind would avoid the opportunity to be enchanted. I use the word opportunity loosely; it really is the wrong word. The experience of enchantment cannot be summoned, or conjured. If I could really demand enchantment, it would come reluctantly- sulking and muffled-as if wrapped in a wet blanket. Engineering is best applied to roads and buildings, not moments. I have always thought the French word “enchante” was as much a spontaneous expression of surprise as it is a gesture of appreciation. Do you agree? One cannot foresee an enchanted moment or experience; it is the spontaneous gift of another. It more often than not is the unintended gift of another. More than once I have given a gift, sure that it would enchant. The very moment I am sure it will enchant, my gift souffle is doomed to crumple and fall flat. Other gifts I thought bordered on a big bunch of nothing were received as if they had an energy supply all their own. Funny, that. To paraphrase JB Priestly, the first fall of snow is not just an event, it is a magical event. One goes to bed in one world, and wakes up in another.
Anyone who gardens understands this. We all know the snowdrops bloom here in March, but to suddenly and unexpectedly see the snowdrops in bloom is enchanting. Some springs I am unexpectedly awakened by birds singing-that singing is so powerful, given its long absense. A gift-that sure singing sign that winter is over. Though nicotiana alata lime is my most favorite annual flower, I am perennially shocked by the beauty of the first blooms. And the last blooms. A gangly 5 foot tall Venus dogwood I planted on a lark in a client garden in 2005 knocks me over and out- on a chance June visit in 2010; I had never seen any tree flower like this. The clematis hybrid Sho-Un, clumsily planted in heavy clay and shade early in my 20′s gardening life, bloomed intermittently, and continuously that entire summer. That heliotrope blue was unforgettable. I bought a one way ticket; that enchanting experience made me a gardener. For years, the space I devoted to my parrotia grove makes me wonder what I was thinking. In 2008, all of a sudden I noticed the thick and curving trunks, and the bark dramatically exfoliating. The science of the maturation of trees was not on my mind-just the magic. Just as I was about to pull out every shred of herniaria in my front gardens, the weeds disappeared. No more verbena bonariensis seedlings. No more crabgrass. No more poa grass. No more oxalis. No more dead spots. That all my troubles disappeared by magic-enchanting. Not that I believe solely in the magic part-it was a gift. From whom, I cannot say. But most gardening days I go to bed in one world, and wake up in another.
This late summer , there were sightings at the shop. A woman unbeknownst to any of us, coming to the shop on Sunday mornings, setting up props, and photographing. One Sunday, the police called. I drove over. She had set up a dressmaker’s form in a limestone pot. On the form, a stole trimmed in fake fur, child-sized. A hat, and a fake fur muff. I asked her if I could help her; we talked. Though she had a job at a dress shop, she designs and hand makes beautiful princess dress clothes for young women. They were beautifully executed. Her Sunday forays to the shop-she wanted to photograph her work with that garden in the background. I saw no problem with that; we parted on friendly terms. Just last week, she unexpectedly comes to the shop with a giant box of Christmas cookies. But it was the letter that was enchanting. It was all about her passion to make clothes for young people. Every stitch supported her argument; this I already knew. But she wrote me compellingly about how the shop garden enchanted her. She believed her work would be endowed with the magic with which she sought to create them-photographed in front of the shop. She was so pleased I had listened to her, and agreed. One never knows how much the simplest response can mean to another. It was a gift I never had any intention of giving.
My blood family consists of a brother Pete, and his wife, Tine. That Tine-she is an angel. For as long as she has known Pete, she has been so exceptionally good to me. When they lived here, I had an invitation to dinner every single Sunday. She took it upon herself to sort out some accounting problems for me-she is a CPA. She would stop by for no reason, bring me things for no reason. They moved to Aspen some years ago-that was tough for the both of us. Her love at my back enchants my life.
She sent me, among other things, a Christmas ornament of the Eiffel Tower. It took my breath away. That is to say, this ornament inexplicably enchanted me. I hung it up, and took lots of photographs. I haver been thinking about this gift for the better part of two days; I have never been to Paris. She says, should I have a mind to, she will go with me. This further enchants me. I am thinking I might go to Paris.
For me, the lesson of the holiday is simple. Give what you can. Good things can come of that. You never know what gesture that you might make that could resolve itself in enchantment for all. There is always the chance you will go to bed in one world, and wake up in another. This day after Christmas, thanks to a gift from Tine, I am thinking about Paris.