When kindness last bloomed in my dooryard

Posted Jan. 02, 2009, at 5:22 p.m.

You know how it is when you purchase a house. It’s always some feature of the architecture or the landscape upon which you center some certainty that you can call the place “home.”

When I first discovered my little corner of Rockland, it was the dooryard garden that made me sure I would grow into feeling at home here. Lush with budding lilacs and with the promise that they would burst into bloom following every long, cold, Maine winter, the place was standing ready to live up to poet Walt Whitman’s famous, evocative line, “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed … .”

With its ornamental pool, grand rhododendron, bird feeders, and trellis-arched entryway, I knew the garden would hold winter interest, too, but I had to admit it most likely would be at its best in the spring, when those celebrated lilacs bloomed.

In fact, lilac time is when the dooryard garden wears its flowers most proudly. But I’m beginning to think springtime is not the dooryard’s most magnificent season. It seems to be the dead of winter when this little Eden becomes a kind of paradise, a place where grace itself makes its home.

It all started at Christmastime two years ago when my mother suffered a stroke. While I was at Mom’s bedside out of state, a friend let me know my trellis had tumbled down in a storm. Concerned that the wooden structure would become buried in the snow and lay there ready to rot as springtime came around, I phoned Ilmarinen Vogel who is not only the father of a teen who was studying creative writing with me but also a project manager in the Camden company, Maine Coast Construction. I hoped he could set the structure on cement blocks to keep it off the ground until I could afford to have it set up again in the spring.

When I returned from Mom’s bedside, the trellis was standing tall and firmly anchored at the entrance to my dooryard. I learned that Vogel and his daughter, Cat, had made a father-and-daughter project of helping me. Their time and efforts were given freely, as a Christmas gift.

And now the dooryard has attracted another helper, too. When Amelia Bittner of Thomaston overheard that I was scared to sweep a huge drift of snow off my roof, she sent her stone-mason husband, Dan, to take a look. After confirming my suspicion that this would become real trouble if it got soaked with predicted sleet, the owner of Keystone Masonry offered to remove it himself, immediately, at a cost so rock-bottom low that it was clearly just a token.

In fact, when I walked out in the dooryard after he’d gone, I realized his generosity had gone even further than that. He had not only cleared the roof, but also the deck underneath it. And he had dug out a path leading through thigh-high snow from the street, through my trellis, along the garden path, and — even more amazing — he had thought to clear a path to my heating oil intake pipe.

Standing on that path in nothing short of awe, I sent a little correction to the ghost of poet Walt Whitman. “Hey, Walt!” I said. “Maybe your famous line should actually read, ‘When kindness last in the dooryard bloomed … .’”

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