I think I know what heaven must be like

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“The many great gardens of the world, of literature and poetry, of painting and music, of religion and architecture, all make the point as clear as possible: The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden. If you don’t want paradise, you are not human; and if you are not human, you don’t have a soul.”  Thomas More

“When you increase the number of gardens, you increase the number of heavens too!”  Mehmet Murat Ildan

I wandered a heavenly space last week, only for an hour or so, at the end of a busy day. It was refreshing to body, mind and soul. I wandered, entranced by the beauty and the magnitude of the Cairns Botanic Gardens. Cairns is a city in far north Queensland. It is part of Australia’s wet tropics and is framed by stunning rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Cairns is a very popular tourist destination.

I fortuitously came across the gardens on my predawn walk and determined to return that afternoon to explore. What better way to spend an afternoon when travelling for work? I did not expect to be so enthralled by the magnificence of the space and of the beauty I discovered there.

I came to learn that the Cairns Botanic Gardens has one of the best tropical plant exhibitions in Australia. The gardens developed, according to early records, in the late 1800’s when a significant quantity of land was set aside for a recreational reserve. Today it has blossomed into several botanic spaces with a diverse plant life that provides visitors with a taste of the wet tropics.

Cairns Botanic Gardens exhibits over 4000 tropical plant species from around the world. Most of the plants throughout the gardens are labelled with both their botanical and commonly used name, which provides interest. There are bromeliads (which I recognised), cycads, epiphytes, ginger plants, lots of flowers and various ferns, along with many native plants, trees and palms. I collected a brochure, one of many, on the Aboriginal Plant Use Garden and took a self-guided walk. It was a truly informative walk; I had no idea plants could be used for so many purposes other than food.

Sharing the space is an arts hub, several neat cafes, an education centre, places for picnics and open space for sprawling on the grass and relaxing. I could have stayed for hours drinking in the uniqueness of the orchids, water lilies, and the carnivorous plants (which are always fascinating) in the conservatory. On my next visit I am keen to explore the Centenary Lakes and the Gondwana Heritage Garden.

Give me a book, a garden to read it in and a cup of tea and I’m as content as can be. I enjoy the beauty of gardens and the functionality of plants. My garden at home isn’t beautiful but it does contain plants that can be cultivated for medicinal and culinary purposes. Herb and plant lore fascinate me. Doing a little research one quickly learns that gardens and the cultivation of plants have been around for thousands of years dating back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Romans, also keen gardeners, were aware of the medicinal properties of plants. Monastic gardens were created around the 8th century and Monks used the beauty of plants and flowers as a celebration of god. Later, what are referred to as psychic gardens, appeared. Basically these were herb gardens designed for academic purposes. The herbs were studied to determine their medicinal properties. The first psychic gardens began to arise in Italy around the 16th and 17th centuries and were often found mostly in the grounds of universities. These were, in essence botanic gardens, though not as we know them today.

Botanic gardens, as we know them today, did not appear until much later. A precursor saw the establishment of gardens, not for the joy or pleasure to be had in the plant itself, but for the nurturing of crops and the commercial advantages to be gained. When international trade became commonplace gardens were established in many countries to try to cultivate new species that were being brought back from expeditions to far off and exotic locations.

In the 19th and 20th centuries gardens for pleasure were created throughout Europe and the British Commonwealth. The scientific programs, previously established in “botanic” gardens, were phased out, though plants continue to be scientifically labelled for our education and enjoyment.

Botanic Gardens Conservation International claims there are currently close to 2000 botanic gardens and arboreta in 148 countries around the world with many more under construction or being planned. I’ve visited only a handful of these in several countries. Which ones have you visited? Did you have a favourite?

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Admit one … to anywhere

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“Buy the ticket, take the ride.” Hunter Thompson

I have two admit one tickets. They’ve been sitting on my dresser for some time now, pulled from a pocket and abandoned among crystals and essential oils.

I catch sight of them occasionally and wonder where I got them and why I haven’t discarded them.  Today, with a soggy Easter weekend forecast, I saw them again and wondered “What if I could use these tickets to gain entry to anywhere I pleased, where would I go?”

And so my mind checked out and went on a mini vacation.

I’ve been to the Louvre, the Vatican, the Tower of London. I’ve passed through the gates of Monet’s house, wandered the halls of Neuschwanstein Castle and climbed the Tower of Pisa. I’ve spent time in a number of National Parks around the world, walked famous tracks and travelled in double-decker buses, London cabs, ferries, rickshaws and taxi boats. Where could I possibly want to go?

Well, it wasn’t hard to come up with a list. If I could obtain a ticket of entry, I’d like to visit the selenite caves in Mexico, the underwater Lion City in China, the Musee D’Orsay in Paris, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. I wouldn’t mind private, after hours, entry to the Admont library in Austria, or a stroll around the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix and, well, I’d kind of like to have a squizz at Gene Simmons Kiss memorabilia collection.

Wow, around the world in 80 seconds.  What a fabulous start to a long weekend.

Where will you head off to this weekend? If your plans have been dashed by weather, where will your imagination take you? What’s on your love list of places to go, things to see and experience to have?

Happy daydreaming.

Walking with Robert Frost

The road less travelled

The chosen path

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

On my walk in the forest this morning I came to a fork in the path and was faced for a moment with a decision. Which way will I go? Almost without hesitation I took the road to my right. Neither path appeared less trodden, less traveled, they both looked fairly similar in terms of use and of scenery. I forged ahead on my chosen path without a second thought of what wonders the other path held. Instead, I found myself exhilarated by the journey, the sense of adventure that lay in the unexplored.  I was intrigued by the details I encountered – the small flock of finches humming their throaty song, the vibrant glow of the morning sun on my cheek and the deeply satisfying smell of the eucalypt, that always signifies home to me.

I sit now, with warm tea in hand, and  ponder Frost’s dilemma.  I do not wish to grow old, reflect and always hold that sense of loss for the path not taken. I do not wish to question, or second guess, nor do I wish to hold feelings of regret or remorse for what might have been.  There is no right or a wrong decision, no right or a wrong path. Instead, living a life of acceptance and gratitude; living life with a sense of reverence and wonder for the beauty and opportunities that are revealed  is, for me, far preferable than regret.

I will not sigh for moments lost, I will not sigh for what might have been. I will rejoice for opportunities taken and given, I will be grateful for the magic, mystery and wonders my path has held. And let’s be honest, what’s stopping me from hiking back and changing direction if I change my mind?

Wishing you a day filled with wonder.

Walking the pages of the world

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

Saint Augustine.  

They say once you’ve travelled you get bitten by the bug. I love to travel, with all its wonders and its difficulties. Every  couple of years now I head off on a new adventure away from my homeland and in doing so I have found a greater appreciation for the world,  its people and their cultures . I have also developed a deep love and respect for my own country as a result of leaving to explore the world.

Like St Augustine and many others, travel for me puts so very much into perspective and reminds me that there is so much more than my own existence.  I love too, that at any time I can simply close my eyes and revisit the places I have been and relive the sights, the sounds and the experiences I had while there. It is as Conroy claims;

 “Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.”

For all the joys travel brings there are also some small hurdles along the way that force one to really acknowledge the important things in life. Travel forces you to minimise, to adjust to change and difference and to make the most of every day despite the weather, language barriers and lack of home comforts. I’m not sure I totally agree with Cesare Pavese, the Italian poet and novelist, that travel is a ‘brutality’, although at times it can bang you up a bit.  It does however, force you to “trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”

I love that when I travel my whole life is contained in a backpack.  The knowledge that I can do with less is a wonder to me and I am grateful for the simple things; a soft patch of grass to sit and eat the figs bought at a market, the stranger who offered help with directions, the cool breeze that dries a wet shirt after a long hike.

The impact of travel is not subtle. These opportunities for exploration and discovery are about more than discovering places. They are also about discovering and unearthing more of myself. For me it makes great dents in my ego, it tests me, feeds, fulfils and reshapes me. Each time I go away I come back changed. I think Theroux got it right when he said;  “You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back”