The Secret Garden of Our Hearts

It must have been the summer of 2012 that I first heard that lovely sound. I arose early one morning to release the hounds. As I stepped out onto the concrete cistern pad, coffee cup in hand, a bird burst into song.

Nine notes. Nine arresting notes. I stood quite still and memorized them. I kept one eye on one dog and the other eye on the other dog, but my heart was with this bird.

I tend to like all birds, having grown up in the country. Feisty wrens, raucous jays, the first robins of Spring, barn swallows that chased the mowing machines. I’d even learned to follow the circling, circling of vultures that could alert us to potential loss with our cattle.

I thought I’d heard every manner of bird song until that very moment in 2012. Before the mystery bird flitted off to a different stand of trees and its song was too far for my ears to hold, I dragged my husband outside.

“That! That there!” I said.

He memorized the notes, too, and then he turned and went inside and matched the notes in his head with a recording on the Audubon website. Within the hour, he had an identification.

Zonotrichia albicollis. The White-throated Sparrow. (https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/white-throated-sparrow)

I flitted back outside and perched on the concrete cistern pad. “I know your name! I know your name!” I cried out.

Now, I am a grown woman, properly situated in middle age. Although I am a writer, I am not given to eccentricities that are beyond what a good Christian lady can afford. Yet, apparently, I talk to birds.

I had no idea where that came from until just a few weeks ago, April 2020 – the year of clear vision, right?

Our daughter is six now, a homeschooled kindergartner. She loves books and stories and we try to read quality literature to her often. I pulled out The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and started at chapter one.

By the time we reached page thirty, I’d fallen into Yorkshire and made the voices for Martha, Ben Weatherstaff, Mrs. Medlock. The feet in my heart had learned to run ’round the garden fountain and my ears were keen to listen to the wutherin’ on the moors.

This was a book from my childhood. A book I’d read time and time again, never growing weary of the story, though I knew by heart what was coming. It had been years since my eye had sucked the story marrow from the pages. Decades, really, since I’d seen these old friends, and yet the magic of the garden still thrust into that secret part inside me where the good things grow.

There, on the bottom of page forty-five, I read the words. Mary Lennox meets Robin Redbreast.

“Oh!” she cried out, “is it you—is it you?” And it did not seem at all queer to her that she spoke to him as if she were sure that he would understand and answer her.

Suddenly, in the middle of our reading hour, I had to stop. Suddenly, so many things made sense.

Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote The Secret Garden in 1909. It was published in 1911. The book found its way into my hands some time during my later elementary school or junior high school years – circa 1980 or so – and the impact of this singular story on my life traveled well into 2012 and beyond.

Sometimes, I write words. They are either good and useful, or bad and destined for the rubbish heap. Every now and again, those words flit together in a mesmerizing column of story, like a flock of starlings. Every now and again, those words make boundaries of form and function and come out as a lesson or two. Every now and again, those words nestle deep into the soil of a reader’s interior garden, find enough pressure and heat to germinate and then, in the fullness of their own time, burst into glorious bloom.

My prayer as we bring these series of articles to a halt is that one day, you will find yourself talking to the birds and you will remember where and how you first learned to speak the language.