It can take a long time for living things to adjust to traumatic changes in their environment.
When I planted a second lovely dogwood tree in my garden six springs ago it rolled up its leaves and brooded for two summers. The poor tree looked ill. Some of its foliage was sun-scorched despite ample watering. It needed lots of support. I drove stout stakes into the surrounding soil and connected thick twine strands to a rubber trunk collar surrounding the tree’s girth, to help steady it during high winds. I had the tree doctor inject the soil with vitamins to encourage the tiny rootlets. But it still looked awful. People asked me what on earth had happened to make it fold into itself like that.
I sighed. “Well, it’s been jerked out of its snug nursery and planted in an alien environment; inevitably, lots of its roots were severed. Radical change is always traumatic. It’s trying to establish new roots in here, and that takes time. All I can do is keep offering support...”
The next year, though, to my immense relief, some of the leaves had unrolled, and a few lovely white starflower blossoms gleamed on higher branches. My young dogwood, gradually adjusting to its new home, was finally beginning to perk up and bloom.
Visitors to the secret garden, a young child and an elderly adult, had had to endure a similar traumatic change.
One sunny day during our Cherry Festival the man entered the main garden with a thin, depressed-looking four-year-old boy holding his hand. Unnaturally quiet, the child didn’t look around, or explore. He simply folded his arms around his knees on the big bench, stared straight ahead and didn’t move. His guardian left him there for a minute and wandered over to me.
“My wife and I brought my grandson to the festival, hoping a change of scene would…but no.” He sighed, “We live in Ohio, where my son and his wife died in a car crash recently. Now Kev’s making his home with us. But he hasn’t smiled, or even talked spontaneously since.” He sighed. “I know that it takes time to adjust: we still feel as numb as that boy. But he’s so folded into himself that we can’t reach him. He hasn’t wanted to leave the house, and is too inwardly-turned to make new friends...”
We talked a bit more, and then rejoined Kevin. I began commenting about things many people miss when they visit the secret garden, such as the giant spider webs and the big fountain’s elegant swans.
The little boy sighed, and spoke softly.
“That blue lion’s nice.”
“It’s a safe place for fairies, isn’t it?”
I nodded. He contemplated the big fountain and pool for a while, and then asked: “Can fairies swim?”
I nodded again as he glanced at me. “...’Course they can…My daddy can swim too, but he’s moved to heaven now so he can’t teach me how. Mom went there, too…”
“Well,” I ventured, “I taught myself when I was ten, at a lake near here. You could, too.”
That surprised him. He unfolded and looked at me closely. “I don’t need lessons?”
“Lessons are fine,” I responded, “but I bet you could teach yourself, with your grandfather’s help.”
The man sat straighter and took his cue. “Your daddy learned to swim with my help, Kevin. He’d want me to teach you, too.” He smiled. “Actually, I was a lifeguard, once.”
Kevin said suddenly. “Grandy, did you save anybody?”
The man’s face lit up!
They left soon after, hand-in-hand, the child listening intently as the man shared his experiences while on guard duty at a local public pool.
Here’s the very best part. The following year I saw them again, moving toward the rides, with a lively looking grandmother in tow. Kevin was too excited to notice me, but his grandfather did. We exchanged pleased grins, and he gave me a double thumbs-up sign as Kevin urged them to hurry up.
Hooray! Like my tree, this family was blossoming!