Great art stops time

...and can also create memorable associations

Yesterday on Paolo Pietropaolo’s show on CBC FM radio, he spoke of music stopping time. I can see how great art can do that - in many ways.

When I’ve stepped into a fabulous garden, I am often stopped dead in my tracks, no longer aware of time or space, but acutely aware of the beauty I’m taking in. It affects me to the core of my being, and I am no longer in a body that occupies physical space, in a location that might have taken a day or an hour to get to, or in a country other than my own. I have entered something timeless - in a rapture, if you will.

The CBC host went on to talk about Fanny Hensel, and played her music. Fanny was the sister of Felix Mendelssohn and a musical child prodigy, discouraged from composing and publishing her music by her brother and father even though she was a formidable talent. Not appropriate for a lady, they said. But listening to her work today brings her into the light, her excellence timeless. Get a cup of tea or coffee, sit in your favourite chair and listen to the broadcast here.

On the other hand, time can be very evident in the garden. One of the most sublime experiences one can have in the garden is watching the progression of plants, according to the seasons. The first virgin green shoots emerging from the warm soil in spring. The lushness of, as of yet, un-ravaged foliage at the height of the season. The vagaries of the weather, pests, disease or the gardener’s inexperience or neglect that hit in August. The surprises that might appear in the autumn…the unexpected blooms, the brilliant colours, the fruiting…

Or, the time of day in which you visit a garden can colour your senses and your experience of it.

A few years ago I visited the High Line in New York City for the first time. But instead of seeing it in its sunlit glory, we only arrived as the sun was beginning to set. We struggled to get there sooner, as time was of the essence. I had thought all was lost, especially in the photos I had taken to chronicle the visit, as the magic of low light can often be lost on film.

Despite my fears, the photos I came away with do seem to have captured the moment.

There is something about the grit of the city that is made soft by this meandering raised platform and the plants that live there. At once appearing wild and self-sown, as if they speak to the time when this rail track was first abandoned and opportunistic grasses and wildflowers called it home, this garden is in fact well orchestrated and maintained by dozens of volunteers and horticulturists.

And the gardens along this once functioning rail line have been embraced by New Yorkers, young and old, gardeners and non-gardeners, as a place they can come to slow down their heart-rate, breathe and simply sit. In short, to let time pass them by.

Years ago I lived on Long Island and would make regular forays into the City. Then it was the late 1980s and it was not the place to be after dark. The streets were grimy, the parks were full of trash, the subways were dark and vandalized and this Canadian was out of her element. But this evening, walking down the High Line as the sun was setting, with other admirers, fear was nowhere to be found.

I had to remember to watch where I stepped and who I might bump into as the magic of plants was everywhere - emphasized by deftly placed lighting.

The cut-outs in the sinuous walkways mimicked the look of rail tracks and the plantings were perfect representations of the wild landscapes of my youth, when my sister and I walked the tracks along the river, straying further and further from our summer cottage…much to the consternation of our parents!

Clusters of paper birch completed the picture of my Ontario wild spaces.

Time is stopped and in the same measure, time has come along a straight line from the heat of my summers in the woods to this place, a raised garden walk in one of the most crowded cities in the world. Magic.