With Beauty Around Me by Carol P. Christ
When I moved from Lesbos to Crete, I decided to take some 30 large and medium-sized handmade terra cotta pots acquired over the years along with me. As I had been living part-time in Crete for several years, most of the plants had died, but I managed to salvage freesia bulbs, chives, and cuttings from nutmeg-scented geraniums.
My friend Mavroudis helped me empty the soil into feed bags provided by a neighbor who keeps sheep. I decided to move the dirt too, as I didn’t fancy carrying numerous bags up to my apartment. The movers were not too happy about this, and by the time they were deposited higgledy-piggledy on my balconies in Crete, several of the pots were broken and the bags were leaking.
I mended the broken pots with trusty epoxy glue before I got sick, which was lucky, because, since then, I would not have been able to do it. A few weeks after arriving, I felt tired and had trouble eating. I was diagnosed with cancer and began chemo-therapy. I have little physical energy and spend much of my days resting in bed or sleeping. There are still many boxes to unpack and they can wait, but I felt the need to tend the balconies.
My apartment in Crete is a 6th floor “perch” just outside the city center walls, with views from balconies (and from inside) over rooftops to the surrounding sea, mountains, and island of Dia. The day after my first chemo, my architect sent Ali, a young Pakistani man, to help me put the pots in the places I designated and to fill them ½ to 2/3 with soil, so they would be ready for planting.
Even without plants, this made a huge difference. There were no more leaking dirt bags, and the balconies, which also held marble tables and metal garden chairs, as well as a newly created lion-faced water fountain I designed while still in Lesbos, were now usable. After I regained a bit of strength, I asked my Albanian cleaning lady Vera’s husband Eddy to take me plant shopping and to plant up my pots.
I had made a list, and despite the end of August being end of season, managed to find everything I was looking for. 3 myrtle bushes in honor of the sacred myrtle tree of Paliani, 5 lavenders, 3 grey and 2 green, a local jasmine that produces large white flowers all summer long, 2 basils, one large-leafed and one small, 2 Cretan dictamus, mint, and thyme for the large balcony. 5 miniature roses for the narrow balcony outside my bedroom and study. And for the balcony outside the kitchen, I would plant a kitchen garden with Thai basil (the one that winters over), along with parsley, sage, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, chives, purslane, and in winter, salad greens. Almost all Mediterranean natives, herbs, and aromatics. A week later we created the finishing touches: a lemon tree for the balcony with the roses, a topiary bay tree to place outside a picture window in my living room, and repairs to an antique pithos jar that would become a bird bath.
I knew surrounding myself with green life would lift my spirits, but I cannot find words to express the great joy my balcony gardens have given me. I have been rising before dawn to await the sunrise on my large balcony. When the sun comes up, I move to the kitchen balcony. There I find the mountains bathed in a rosy glow and watch pigeons fly from their sea crag beds to the mountains as they begin their day. The full moon appeared recently before setting in the morning sky. When I lie in bed, I look out on miniature roses.
I can feel beauty healing me.
Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator who lives in Heraklion, Crete. Carol’s recent book is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.
Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.