Saturday, April 13, 2013

Thomas Jefferson's Birthday Today

President Kennedy once remarked, at an intimate White House dinner, that here seated was the greatest gathering of intellect since President Thomas Jefferson ... dined alone!

In honor of the man who wrote America's Declaration of Independence, indeed a Renaissance Man, am bringing back part of an early story, now in the "Mentors, Help along the Way" chapter of my book, Wayfaring Traveler, Whale Rider of the Tide.

Moonlight Gardens & Monticello

Now planting fragrance and my uprooted self in far western mountains, am remembering my father's voice, reading aloud Lost Horizon. 

We had sailed from jasmine and dolphins of the tropics to wild orange bittersweet, concord grapes, and alarming mottled lobsters which thrash claws and shriek as they hit boiling water; turn scarlet. I had never seen snow.

Curled in Father's lap by the fire, he reads to me of a remote hidden valley in the Tibetan Himalayas, the legend of Shangri-La. The story unfolds to an extraordinary agenda to safeguard world beauties and mind-treasures, while the world goes mad with global war.

Evening scent of tuberose rises from Shangri-La's fertile valley to mountainside Lamasery, the haunting "fragrance of moonlight." I was enchanted! Father paused in the story:

"Victorians planted "moonlight gardens" like Shangri-La's, fragrant at night."


"Um. Named after Victoria, Queen of England. She lived a long time, and set her stamp on a time of wealth, railroads, factories, England in India, great explorers. She tended to be disapproving and certain of England's right to rule. Your grandparents were born into the last of that era.

"And, little lady, we're going to visit some gardens soon, made nearly 200 years ago by men who fought England's king."

"Before Victoria?"

"Yes, when America was part of England, and not happy about it."


"No, it's winter now. Flowers are sleeping under snow till spring."

In the fullness of summer, we travel to George Washington's Mt. Vernon and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. By Jefferson's library:

"Pay attention to the docent." 

I look up dreamily at the solidity of my father. He holds my hand.

"But, I am paying attention."

Holding my other hand: a tall elegant 18th century man, knee britches, embroidered waistcoat, blazing forehead, twinkling eye.

The docent drones on.

I walk away, as it were, into the gardens as they had been, walled, terraced, and fruitful, on a Blue Ridge mountaintop: Hand-in-hand with an Ambassador to the French Court, a President, a yeoman farmer. 

A deeply-felt land, library and sanctuary still visited by Jefferson, its dreamer.

Hearing Father read Lost Horizon had alerted me to the hallowed nature of gardens and ancient wisdom. Beauty is not necessarily protected in a brutal epoch: Guardians protect...