Especially since our dreams are so important in helping to sustain us
For much of my life I had a big dream of owning land and having a farm—a kind of Garden of Eden, a lush, verdant paradise. Even as a child I fantasised about gardens. My first ever impression of beauty, when I looked upon something and knew it to be sublimely beautiful was at the age of 3 in Japan. I can still recall the place, and the things I saw. It was the sculpted plants, the raked stones, the gurgling water, the green stillness, with a bright splash of orange peaking up from the depths, the koi. There were round, flat stones that you could walk across the water on. As a child I imagined the opaque waters were very, very deep, and that these stones were the tops of columns, their immensity submerged.
Just under two decades ago, I began to bring this dream to life, to build such a beautiful place, filled with streams and paths, and mystery. We bought a large piece of land where we were living at the time, and I began the never-ending process of beating back the jungle and turning an abandoned ranch back into a living, breathing place.
It was a project of great love to plan it out, to design it. I hired an architect to give formal shape to the ideas in my head about the buildings that were scattered around. I worked with a local builder using traditional materials to bring back two of the old buildings, bringing in the most incredible roof beams—one from a church (the beams were over 100 years old) and the others from a sustainably managed tropical forest. Working with the local artisans, we sourced all of the material on the property, and restored these buildings.
Countless hours were spent purchasing seeds from various seed banks around the world, of trees and exotic, but productive fruit and nut species. I worked with local shamans to find plant life that was part of the traditional medicine of the area. With a small team of people, we planted over 10,000 trees and other plants, building our own nursery, where we continuously propagated all the plants we had. Wild orchids, countless varieties of ginger and helliconias, 30 varieties of citrus, any fruit I could find that would grow, including attempts with many that would not. I brought mango seeds from India, as well as the local varieties. And over the following years, had the pleasure of watching seedlings grow from purchased seed into tall trees producing an incredible abundance and variety of fruit.
A good friend would come out camping with her man and fill their pickup truck with the abundant fruit that was there and in season and take it back to town and sell it at a local farmers market, taking the proceeds and giving it to charity. When I think about the purpose of life, of my life, this is its essence. To find a way to give and support the earth and the people who care for it…
We encouraged people to come out and join us or to just go whenever and to take fruit, whatever they could pick. Indeed, we grew so much that often times it ended up not getting fully picked and falling to the ground.
We laid out pathways, beautiful ornamental walking routes around the property. Solar lamps were installed to keep the paths lit when darkness fell. The property was entirely off grid, but we had two large solar arrays to drive silent, submerged pumps, which pumped up to 100,000 litres of water a day into a system of canals, hoses, and irrigation channels.
We restored a beautiful old stone cattle feeding trough with statuary, and turned it into a swimming pool, and spent many a happy hour splashing about in there. Family-style barbecues happened a few times, when we could all just enjoy good food and drink, and great company.
But life leads us in different directions, and our lives pulled us away from this place, from the country it was in, and any illusion that we might return was shattered by the last few disruptive years. And so, we decided to sell it. Once you make such a decision, the calculus changes, and you just want it gone, over with.
That desire does not prepare you for the nostalgic feeling of letting it go. The day before the closing I went out to the property and did what I loved best. I just worked my ass off. All day long, in the heat, sweating, getting dirty, fixing things, playing in the mud, being the child that was fascinated by a Japanese garden. My lightness and relief on letting go of a dream that was never going to materialise like mine, was still tinged with sadness to see a dream go. It is a bit like our dreams are our friends. They nourish and sustain us as we go through our daily lives, giving us hope, giving us something to strive for.
I certainly had that, so cannot look back with regret. But now I get to figure out how to satisfy this same itch in a different way, one that is more aligned with my life today. And that is a process that is just beginning. As one door closes several new ones open. And I am grateful that I have someone helping me to find my voice.