Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ghosts in the Garden: Reflections on Endings, Beginnings, and the Unearthing of Self by Beth Kephart

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

* Hardcover, 144 pages
* Publisher: New World Library, 2005
* ISBN: 1577314980
* Price: $17.00

The author of this small book, that would so easily fit the hands while walking a garden, ready to open while perhaps sitting on a fallen log or stump or among flowerbeds, is a poet in prose. Kephart has written an ongoing essay, covering the seasons of a garden as she covers the changing seasons of her own life. On her 41st birthday, she has a sobering moment of realization. She is about to enter midlife with all its reassessments and transformation and growth, all the realizations of changing roles as wife, mother, woman, writer. Discovering the garden called Chanticleer near her Philadelphia home gives her contemplations a beautiful backdrop, if not a solid grounding to view herself as she views the natural world around her.

Kephart walks the paths of the public garden and observes, then translates poetically to us, her readers, how she gradually learns to accept the changes inevitable in life. She observes nature as she observes the gardeners themselves. On occasion, she takes with her on her walks her young son, other times her husband, who captures Chanticleer in his own art medium - photography - adding his black and white images to Kephart's text.

Perhaps one moment so captured that might sum up Kephart's process of midlife transformation is a short essay about the garden after a storm:

"The garden had been put in its place by weather, and so had the rest of us; we are so entirely miniscule in comparison to wind and rain and hail. We were aware of how everything was angled newly. Made jagged or raw. Thinned out. We were reminded of other storms that had blown in, then turned and vanished.

"On that day only the gardeners seem brave - hauling broken branches and clumps of errant leaves from wherever they had gotten to, straightening the stakes and invisible ties, suggesting, by the way they carried things, that the world would be made right again. The gardeners were muddy and burdened and resilient because love is the only chance a garden's got. For the moment, and in the moment. Now because of then."

The walk through Kephart's garden of words is a path well worth taking.

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