I met Tom Bowles after a meditation session in Mexico.
I had noticed Tom and his wife in the dining room at Rancho La Puerta. They were of my parents’ generation, and radiated happiness and peaceful vitality.
On vacation at the Rancho for the first time, my mother and I were meeting new people and trying new things. Tom and I struck up a conversation, and I learned that he was a retired surgeon. After Katie’s cancer journey, cardiothoracic surgeons have held my admiration; I was intrigued and wanted to know more about Tom. He is one of those doctors with a noticeable healing presence, coupled with high intelligence and obvious technical ability.
Tom mentioned that his wife had just published her first book, a volume of poetry. Since I had recently published my book, I introduced myself to Judy and congratulated her. It was the beginning of our friendship. After returning home, we read one another’s books.
The trip to the Rancho became an annual tradition for Mom and me. Each year, Tom and Judy were there at the same time. One day, Judy and I ended up on the same hike in the early morning before breakfast. I usually hike on Mt. Kuchumaa, but that year, recovering from a respiratory illness, I decided to stay in the lowlands. Judy and I talked non-stop as we hiked, touching on writing, art, teaching styles, artistic injury and blocks caused by unkind instructors. She revealed that she had been a teacher of short stories at American University, who later felt the call to write poetry. This resonated with my journey into painting in a new medium after 30 years away from it.
We hiked and talked on subsequent mornings, enjoying each other’s company and sharing more stories. We kept in touch via email and letters between trips to the Rancho.
In my work for the Bloedel Reserve as a facilitator of the Strolls for Well-Being program, I have a dear colleague, Laura, who is also in charge of the Creative Residency program and the Poetry Month installation. In 2018, Laura invited me to share my favorite poems with her in anticipation of the installation, and I included Judy’s book among them. Laura chose Judy’s poem “Measure for Measure” to be part of the exhibit in April of that year. What a thrill it was for me to write to Judy and tell her that her exquisite poem had been selected! Judy is also a master gardener, and I began to dream that she might have the opportunity to come and see her poem set within the Reserve. But it was not to be; one of her daughters had been diagnosed with cancer, and Judy was at that time walking in my shoes – as the mother of a daughter in treatment for cancer – in her case, an adult daughter.
We kept in touch during this difficult time. I created a photo book for Judy so she could see her poem (and all of the others) in place in the landscape during Poetry Month. She shared the book with her writing group and her family. Then came the happy news that her daughter was in remission!
As Laura began to prepare for Poetry Month of 2019, she chose another of Judy’s poems, this time from her soon-to-be-published second book. The poem is “Forsythia.”
Last week, the dream came true: Judy and Tom arrived to celebrate Poetry Month 2019 on the Bloedel Reserve. Judy saw her poem in place, along with the rest of the installation, and enjoyed a five-day Creative Residency, which included a stay in the beautiful, private cottage tucked away in the woods. A residency brings with it the opportunity to enjoy the grounds even when the Reserve is closed to the public. Two of Judy’s three daughters were able to join her and Tom: Lauren and Julia (now fully recovered from cancer).
Judy gave a beautiful reading at a reception on the Reserve. In a typically unselfish move, she generously shared the spotlight by reading not only her own poetry, but several poems written by others which are in the exhibit this month. It was a joy to hear her read her work aloud.
We had the pleasure of lunches, dinners and long conversations together. In Judy’s words, the family “adored the whole time: the Reserve, the poetry, the cabin, my presentation and you and Gregg’s hosting.” The joy of this dream-come-true will be with me for a lifetime. Thank you, Judy and Tom, Lauren and Julia, for making the trip and sharing your gifts of poetry and presence with us and our community!
This week, as spring develops more fully and the earth continues to awaken from its winter slumber, I’m reflecting on the serendipities and rich blessings that have come from a (seemingly) random meeting in Mexico six years ago: artistic inspiration, mutual encouragement, new relationships, invitations offered and accepted, creative expression, forest bathing and cross-country connections. I’m overflowing with gratitude for my job at the Reserve, and for the outreach programs that have been created there to serve a larger community. I’m so happy to work in a place surrounded by natural beauty, artistry, generosity and healing potential.
If you are an artist (or know one) who would benefit from a creative residency, please check out the Bloedel Reserve’s Creative Residency information here. And do come to see all of the poems in the landscape! The words enhance each setting, and the settings enhance the poems.