Inside the Rhododendron Hedge

StumpI took Thistle for her morning walk yesterday along the same side road we take most mornings. As we headed up a steep bit, she stopped to nose through the leaves on the side of the road (whew–puff, puff–suits me!). As she poked around, I noticed an opening in the mass of rhododendrons growing there. It looked almost like a passageway. I started to tug on Thistle to get her moving again, but then I hesitated, and followed her through the gap in the leaves instead.

It was like entering a leafy, green cave. There was a sort of room there, banked in by branches and I thought how I would have LOVED this when I was a kid. The ground rose steeply to the back with a more or less level area in the opening. It was perfect for playing house, for hiding from brothers or parents, for reading or writing or drawing, for baking mud pies, for holding secret treasures, and for dreaming.

We had places like that leafy bower when I was a kid. The giant chestnut stump that had rotted out leaving a perfect, circular fort. The little clearing where we transplanted moss to make a”carpet.” The tunnels we built in hay bales in the barn. Little havens of escape.

So why don’t I have places like that anymore? I used to pack a bag with an apple, a book, a pen, and a notebook and hike out onto the hogback on our farm to sit and contemplate. In college, I would take my notebook and pen and hop on a bicycle to pedal down to the cemetery where I would peer through the bars in a crypt and dream about who those people might have been.

Now I do most of my writing at the dining room table. It’s a nice spot, but it’s not . . . inspiring. And here’s what I think my lack of special spots boils down to: TIME. I’m too busy to pack up and go to a special place. It’s easier to sit at the table where cups of tea and chocolate are just a few feet away. Not to mention laundry and tomorrow’s to-do list.

It’s not a very good excuse. I’m thinking it might be time to stake out a leafy bower and spend an afternoon watching the changing shadows cast by the sun.

Published by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Author, wife, child of God.

14 thoughts on “Inside the Rhododendron Hedge

  1. I used to have special places, but as I got older my definition of ‘special’ changed.

    You would not believe where I do most of my writing, so I won’t describe it (I’ll just say – 20 dogs within 30 ft.). And I write between midnight and 5 am. But the sound of the guys snoring and yipping as they chase dream-cats makes it far more special to me than the silent glade of distant memory could ever be.

    I suspect your dining room table is more inspiring than you think, and that its special ambience is the key to much of what is personal and dear in your writing.

    1. Love that your writing is populated by dog dreams! You’re right about the table. The problem now is that the bears are coming around again and because they can see me through the French doors I have to go hide lest they stick around all afternoon hoping I’ll feed them.

  2. I also remember secret places. I grew up in San Francisco and we had a “secret” fort on the back of a signboard. We’d all crawl up through the wooden supports where my brother and his friends had built a floor with lumber found in the empty lot. I’d much rather have a secret room in a rhododendron hedge.

    And no, I don’t know what a hogback is.

    1. I love that kids come up with secret places no matter where they live!
      A hogback is the long, gentle ridge of a hill that typically slopes down to a bottoms area. It literally looks like a hog’s back sloping down to the tail. Great view from there!

  3. For me, it was two huge arborvitae trees in my Grandma’s front yard–now MY front yard. I totally know what you mean about the comfort of trees–I’ve thought about writing a book about that. I even wrote a poem about ’em over on the Revivalist here–not trying to hijack your blog but it has a pic of one of the trees–they’re HUGE!

  4. My great-grandfather’s house had two huge boxwoods in the front yard, with lovely spaces inside. But we couldn’t stay there long because we’d have to go home…
    The secret bower idea is very romantic, but for writing, I have to admit that the proximity of tea and chocolate has distinct advantages!

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