The weekend began with a generous offer from an arriving guest. “Is there anything I can do around here to help you out?”
Geared up to entertain a visitor from out of state, I had just finished vacuuming the floor of the mud room and had run out of time to pick the bouquets of lilacs I’d hoped would fill my rooms with their wonderful fragrance. So centered was I on providing for my guest that I hardly knew how to reply. His suggestion that he do something to help me took me so pleasantly by surprise.
I almost demurred. After all, he’d driven far to visit midcoast Maine and me. It didn’t seem quite right to ask an arriving guest to help around the house. But then, looking up at him, I was reminded that my friend is much taller than I am. Picking up the vase I’d abandoned just before he arrived, I filled it with water and said, “Yes, you can do something! You can cut the tallest lilacs for me.”
As he used my long-handled pruning sheers to extend his already considerable reach and handed down the fragrant flowers to me, I knew the lilac bushes would benefit not just this day but in future years from his shaping them. Until he topped them, their misshapen forms had reflected my own annual harvesting of flowers from the lower branches that I can reach. And as we filled the vase to overflowing, the effort seemed more like an offering, a present, a gift, than merely an offer.
It is often the case that small kindnesses engender grander things. And so it turned out that this lilac harvesting was the harbinger of a harmonious weekend. Not only did the flowers fulfill their promise of imbuing the atmosphere with fragrance, but the gardening theme literally took center stage at the Boothbay Opera House when we heard folk singer Dave Mallett sing his best-known tune, “Garden Song.”
I had to believe that Mallett’s many longtime listeners were probably more eager to hear him sing his searing song “Fire,” his poignant “I Knew This Place,” or his new work incorporating words from Henry David Thoreau’s masterpiece, “The Maine Woods.” They may also have enjoyed insights into the singer revealed in “The Artist in Me,” a song that asks, “Why am I amazed at the wonder of it all/ I guess it’s just the artist in me.” Nevertheless, as Mallett sang “Inch by inch, row by row,/ Gonna make this garden grow/All it takes is a rake and a hoe,” the audience could not resist joining in singing a tune that is named one of the 50 most famous folk songs of all time.
As the folk singer and his fans sang on, it was clear that his “Garden Song” is that rare thing, a heartfelt expression of hope and simple sentiment. It is these qualities married to a memorable tune that make the song so unforgettable.
Like my friend’s delivery of those sky-high lilacs into my arms, Mallett’s song arrived as a gift in a garden, where Mallett found inspiration while pulling weeds. It may be the artist in Mallett that saw that weeds could seed such a celebrated song. And I suppose it’s the writer in me that sees something extraordinary in a tall man topping a lilac bush. But one need not be songwriter or newspaper columnist to find significance in small moments. All it takes is keeping one’s eyes wide open to wonderment.