I flew to Seattle a few weeks ago to visit my daughter Molly and her family in Bellingham, Washington—a two-hour drive north of Seattle. Give me Liberty took flight from Louisville stripped of masks and loaded with—I worried—highly transmissible subvariants. A mind-numbing, COVID-incubating slog through airports, and buckled into packed planes, ended 23 hours later in Seattle.
I arrived in Bellingham the next day—safely it panned out—thanks to a K-95 mask. (I was among a dozen or so who were masked on each flight.) It was an immense respite finally to arrive at my daughter’s home and garden in “The City of Subdued Excitement.” Subdued beats chaotic air travel any day. The Washington Post, last week, described the current mood of airline passengers as the “summer of seething.”
Bellingham’s “excessive heat warning” later in the week didn’t dampen my visit, either. The thermometer pushed into the mid-80s (30 C) with little humidity. You call that hot?
The visit was chill
I took beautiful walks and settled down for hours of conversation, cookouts, and laughter with family and friends. Hummingbirds sipped on beebalm nectar, and the Swainson’s thrush, described by Steven Matheson, Molly’s partner, as the twirly-whirly bird, sang from the treetops. Steven’s nine-year-old daughter, Augusta, served round after round of tasty nasturtium blooms.
Story, my 15-year-old granddaughter, was gracious with her time, as well. She’s got better things to do than to hang with Babu. (I was anointed Babu when Story was born.) But she went with us on walks and was good company. Story is a beautiful young woman, fearless and kind. She has been immersed in gardens and the outdoors since early childhood. Story documented a visit Rose and I made with her to Great Dixter in 2018.
Chris and Katherine Close, along with their daughter Sophie, came through Bellingham for two days, while I was there. Sophie lives, works, snowboards, and hikes in Whistler, B.C. Chris and Katherine had flown to Vancouver from Wellington, New Zealand, the week before. The Closes were heading off to hike the slopes of Mount Rainier after visiting us in Bellingham. They are “trampers” in the fullest sense—hiking in New Zealand’s sub-Antarctic Islands, Alberta’s Rockies, and the Pyrenees. Sophie plans to hike the 2,650-mile Pacific Coast Trail next summer from Manning Park, B.C., to Campo California.
Molly’s mom, Ali Mathews, and I met Chris and Katherine in England in 1978 while Chris and I were studying and working at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, England. Ali lives in Bellingham, also. We all picked up where we started 44 years ago. We talked about gardening, friends, and the passage of time.
Chris and I haven’t lost enthusiasm for plants, but our memory banks have been robbed. Taxonomic name changes are a mental acuity test in our dotage. Hiking a trail in the Sehome Arboretum one morning, standing over a familiar plant, we both thought: “Wait a minute, the new Latin name will come to me.” This happened more than once. (Take, for example, the circumboreal fireweed. The defrocked Latin name, Epilobium angustifolium, long familiar to us, had been tossed into the taxonomic ditch some time ago.) A few minutes went by. The new name suddenly bubbled from Chris’s frontal lobe: Chamaenerion angustifolium! We were relieved that neurons this morning, at least, only needed rebooting. We enjoyed the walk and masses of hillside sword ferns, patches of horsetails, and occasional vine maples and delicious thimbleberries.
“The garden is overgrown,” Molly warned the week before I arrived. No need to apologize. Her 500-square-foot garden idyll was beautiful—luscious and exuberant. Molly is a gardener and herbalist. I spent hours, sitting on her deck enjoying her agastaches, calendulas, mulleins, roses, Greek foxgloves, valerians, lamb’s-ears, prunellas, yarrows, and sunflowers.
Here’s how Molly described her garden
“An inquiry into impermanence, a rainbow feast for pollinators, an experimental space for growing small gatherings of medicine to share with loved ones—tinctures, elixirs, honeys, salts, teas, salves and more—and an ever-unfurling pleasure sanctuary for rest and wonder, a reflection of possibility and unending change…”
Molly is a chip off the block. She comes by gardening naturally from her mom and me. Ali and I planted a seed; Molly kept it growing. Molly has expanded my paltry knowledge of medicinal and edible plants in her workshop garden, surrounded by massive Douglas firs, western red cedars, hemlocks, the shimmering leaves of cottonwoods and an understory of ferns, Oregon grape hollies and seasprays
I love being subdued.
I am a very proud father.