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"Gifts of the Garden"
Santa Barbara Magazine

by Mary Heebner

n 1992 I traveled to San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, with my husband, Macduff Everton and my daughter Sienna Craig. Mimi and Robert Laughlin, a free lance writer and a curator for the Smithsonian Institute respectively, were our generous hosts. I decided, upon returning to my studio in Santa Barbara, to make a small collage as a way of thanking them for their fine hospitality. A good idea is a gift, that comes through a weird mixture of hard work and serendipity. Conversely, making a gift can sometimes generate new ideas. In this instance an entire series of small collages came to be. A collage is the making of a whole out of a handful of parts. I made Mimi's piece and with the fragments of paper and monoprint left, another, then another and another kept coming. By the afternoon's end I had a 'garden' of my own; twelve little collages. I wrote the following piece to accompany the series.

At five in the afternoon the sky was a bright blue and the sun felt warm on our backs. After a day spent wandering the streets of San Cristobal de las Casas we walked to Bob and Mimi's. Unlatching the heavy wooden gate, we pass through a horseshoe arch of garnet colored bougainvillea and into Mimi's garden.

Mimi is a permissive gardener. Parsley and rue settle in among the penstamons which push up against pink tea roses. Delphiniums and columbines rise from thick beds of basil and mint. Clay tiles embedded in the soil invite cats and people to pad around and through the confusion of blossoms. Today the path is lined with purple irises about to bloom.

The matriarch of the garden is an ancient cacti which is host to chalky clusters of cochinilla arena that Mimi invites the locals to gather. They dry then crush these lice like parasites which yield a dense crimson-alizarin colored dye. The old nopal bears the weight of dying leaves, as leathery as elephant ears, along with new tuna fruits and furry young growth. On a tree which shades a patch of lettuces and chive, papery thin blossoms dangle like Japanese lanterns at a summer's evening picnic. The blossoms have the strange markings of a red-veined fertile egg yolk. Near the fig, heavy with unripe green fruit, is a tree with apples shaped like clay pinch pots. This apple crop is left to grow unpicked, unbothered, like a homely person afforded the odd freedom of inattention.

A bowl of hot pink, scarlet and rust carolinas grace the plain wooden table on the veranda where we unload our day's shopping. The carolinas were chosen, Mimi explained, because the lovely white orchids she wanted weren't quite as nice as they could be.

A few minutes after our arrival, a deep indigo washes over the cerulean sky. The bruised cloud bursts open so suddenly that Mimi drops her shears by the lettuce patch, snatches the laundry off the line and runs for the house. Part of the garden enters the house with her. No lettuce, only raindrops, raw energy, and a wild, humid fragrance.


© Mary Heebner for Santa Barbara Magazine, Spring 1995