The Death and Life of the Gardener

Honoré poured a little maple syrup into her tea and stirred it slowly. Above stairs she could hear her great-nephew, Timothy, shuffling across the floor. She had been outside working in her garden since sun-up, reveling in its palpable magic. But now it was time for a tea break. After adding a little more sweetener, Honoré took a cautious sip.

She had begun using maple syrup after she noticed Timothy putting something in the honey and sugar. All in all, she was liking maple syrup better – she could taste the life of the sugar maples. But Timothy had become tiresome; she was bored with his clumsy attempts to poison her. Not so different than the sharks who had tried to steal her business year after year.

The contaminated honey sat prominently on the table when Timothy clattered downstairs. He toasted a couple of frozen waffles, dropped them on a plate, and sitting down across from his great-aunt, poured maple syrup on his food.

Honoré barely glanced at him. There was blight on one of her apple trees. Would an organic spray harm the bees? Her mind envisioned the turning of time, the smothering of fungus, the potential of a single bee unknowingly carrying poison to the hive. She was seeing the world from the bee’s many eyes – swirls of scent-laden color.

How could a small life feel so deeply alive?

“Auntie,” Timothy shattered the vision, hauling her back to his unpleasant reality. “I talked to a real estate agent, just fact-finding, and she told me that you could name your price for this land. The woods alone are worth a fortune.”

Honoré frowned at him – her great-nephew had become a parasite. If she could explain.... “Timothy, why should I sell this…this Eden, for money?”

When he only glared, she tried again. “I have plenty of money. Your developers would cut down the trees, murder them, and raze the land for another blighted suburb.”

She could feel Timothy’s frustrated rage. He distracted himself by filling a mug with coffee.

“Your sister understands,” Honoré said.

“Oh yes, perfect Tina. Now that she’s getting her horticulture degree, she’s as happy to live in mud and manure as you are.” He controlled his spleen with effort. “But we…you…could travel. Buy a new car. Enjoy life!”

Honoré spread her hands, inviting him in. “I do enjoy life, Timothy. Every day. And Tina feels it too. The trees are so alive…so peaceful… so much beauty…” She let silence fill the moment again. Outside the window, cedar branches swept a slow waltz in the breeze. Nature’s art enthralled her.

Timothy banged down his mug. “You are senile!”

“Not at all,” Honoré said. “I have stumbled into happiness.”

She laid her hands flat on the table. This was the last thing she had to do. “I’ve changed my will, Timothy. I have written you a check for twenty-five thousand dollars, but I’m leaving the rest of my estate to your sister.”

“No!” Timothy shouted. “You have millions. Half is mine!”

Honoré drew on the strength of the trees to fill her soul. “You have earned none of it, but you would destroy life, my life, for money. Timothy, I won’t have it.”

She left him screaming wild threats out the door after her. A neighbor stopped washing her car and stared.

Honoré waved, and leaving them behind, wandered among her plants, shrubs, flowers, and trees, even noting with wry acceptance the ever-present weeds. She ran her fingertips over leaves and bark, murmuring greetings, assessing growth and health, gratefully feeling the slow healing of wounds her decades in society had caused. Honoré strolled into the woods, to the old trees that felt more like family than the people she shared blood with.

If she could be reincarnated as a tree, she thought, she would know joy. The night before she had dreamt that when she showered, mud ran from her skin; pink clover and daffodils grew from her scalp, trailing flowers like long hair.

It was lovely.

Honoré leaned her forehead against rough bark, breathing in the scents of life. And once again, she heard the trees speak to her, call to her.

It was time.

Finding a perfect spot, she shed her clothes and lifted her arms in prayer to the giants around her. Praying for her place in the world. Vaguely she sensed that her feet were thrusting out roots, her arms were stiffening into branches, and her fingers were becoming leaves that danced with the breeze.

Welcome, sister.

With joy, Honoré let go of all she had known, even her name, and joined the great dance.


Two days later the police dragged Timothy away. After a sleepless night, the neighbor had reported the threats; poison was found in the food, and although her clothes were piled in the woods, Honoré had vanished.

When Tina took over the land, she touched the bark of the river birch in puzzlement. Surely she would have remembered seeing such a grand tree on her walks with her great-aunt.
But there was work to be done. With a shrug, Tina headed back to the orchard, considering whether to risk a late pruning, and smiling as she heard the music of the breeze flowing across the woods.