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Fahmidan Journal / Issue 7 

Sowing Seeds of Beauty

by Karen Moore

The stream curves and quickens here. I hear its pulse, the whooshing rush of its heartbeat. I feel the urgency in its echo, in the ripple and roll of water as it scrambles across the river rock. No time to linger. Flickers of sunlight dab the surface, flirting and darting in a game of hide and seek—follow me, hurry—before disappearing around the next bend. Ahead beauty beckons. I’m certain of it, though I’ve never before walked this path. I try to slow my steps, to let the anticipation of what’s to come build. To ground myself in the gravel underfoot. I follow the bending stream, feeling the pull of present and past. Just like he did.


One final curve and the beating heart of this place reveals itself, exploding onto my senses in a shock of light and colour. Claude Monet’s famous water garden. Thoughts and breath already stilled, now stolen; awed by the magnificence of this place I’ve travelled over six thousand kilometres to see. One hundred and fifteen years ago, the most renowned impressionist painter in the world stood exactly here. I can stretch out my fingertips and touch what he did. Insert myself into one of his paintings; a scene captured on canvas undisturbed by the lilies that sway in unison. Frozen forever in history.


Senses overload as my brain struggles to process all it sees. Smells. Feels. Weeping branches from tree-lined banks cast their identical reflections in the pond below amidst a carpet of water lilies. The clouds too are reflected here. Sky and earth captured together in this one spot; a world inverted. The scent of summer, lush and lingering, perfumes each inhale. Even the flap and forage of birds, the gossip of insects; all combine in glorious concert.


I glance to my right and see a man in a blue button-up shirt, a single tear rolling slowly down his face.


Yes, I think, to literally weep from beauty means to step into this place.


 

Had I stood beside Monet in 1883, I would have seen a markedly different landscape. His artist’s eye would have been already envisioning the dreamscape surrounding me today as he began replacing the vegetable rows, box and spruce trees in front of the house with not only blossoming cherry and apricot trees but an extensive flower garden full of riotous colour and beautiful symmetry.


Additional wings would be built on either side of the house and the entire façade covered with lush green Virginia creeper that would turn a dazzling red in autumn. A portico and a pergola enveloped in climbing roses would be added in front. A painter’s palette of harmonies.


The magical water garden would find its earliest beginnings in the excavation of a small pond which Monet would suffuse with delicate nympheas. In ten years’ time he would enlarge it, acquiring additional property as well as the right to divert the Ru, the stream that had lured me here with a crooked and curving finger. Monet would sculpt the banks of this new Japanese-inspired garden with weeping willows, poplars and bamboo; with irises, tulips and roses. He would fill the water’s surface with even more exotic imported species of water lilies, shaping with precision the enchanting nature of the place he would paint for the rest of his life.


Reflections and perceptions. Order from chaos.


 

Those paintings are the reason I’m here this sun-soaked July afternoon. To walk in the place where such beauty was created, was inspired. I want to see, touch, smell, what to this point has been only experienced through my eyes and his canvases, in roped-off splendour. It’s not lost on me that two hours away lay the beaches of Normandy, ordered chaos as well. I follow these echoes of lives past in a search for beauty, for meaning.


Who will follow my echoes? What footsteps on a beach will I leave behind, what thing of beauty?


It’s time to tour the equally celebrated flower garden and I feel a brief sense of loss as I turn to leave the water garden. I had already begun to lay roots here. I step off the famed Japanese bridge, its precisely-placed location directly in line with the central alley of the Clos Normand across the road that I’m about to enter.


He left nothing to chance, I surmise.


But an afternoon of varying vantage points and shifting light will reveal the ambiguity of perspective and perception.


Breathtaking as well and yet so unlike the water garden, the grandeur of these rectangular flower beds lay in their symmetry, their variety and profusion, their kaleidoscope of colours. Crimsons and cobalts, magentas and mauves. Every shade of green imaginable. Every leaf shape nature could possibly provide. It should be chaos, all these vibrant colours competing for attention, compelling the eye continually forward, but there is a serene settling into this place.


My gaze settles on the flower nearest, a shoulder-high peony. I step closer, face lowered to within inches of its bloom. This one flower in a sea of thousands. Large outer petals. Oval-shaped. White. Each outlined, like the trace of a kiss, in the deepest burgundy. Inwards, white brightens to a dusky dramatic pink. The petals here are more compact, their tips coming to a point. Each one, perfection.


He sat here, dug his hands into the earth here. Purchased the rare and mixed it with the ordinary. He created a thing of ethereal beauty in this very place I stand and then recreated it in his paintings.


 

I didn’t see what surely must have been the ravages of the birth canal, or the forceps marks on her tiny head as my face lowered to within inches of hers. What I saw was the beauty of her features, felt the impossible smallness of her being against mine. My first-born. My daughter. She was my rare, rooted among the ordinary. Bound intrinsically, we would follow the seasons together.


Thirty years later the cycle renewed. A delicate head wreathed in dark downy hair, perfect lipstick-lips, a snub of a nose. Though I gaze transfixed at every petite feature of this first grandchild, though she too is a thing of ethereal beauty, it is my daughter’s face I lean to. Look to. Overnight she’s acquired the look of a mother: tired, triumphant, in love. And in that look, I know with certainty that everything good she is and has learned to be, she will take and wrap around this precious daughter. Her masterpiece.


It would require fourteen days of quarantine but her grandfather and I would return, move in, and live those first weeks of life with her, a future in bloom. Weeks in which we found chaos and order, beauty in the everyday, reflections of ourselves.


 

I continue walking through the garden toward Monet’s house. Small white butterflies—a perfect foil for the brilliant purple lavenders that line either side of the path—match the crushed stone underfoot.


Of course they do.


I look around and take in straight lines; long beds alternating with rulered gravel walkways. Monet may not have liked order but the impression here is of just that. Only precise planting could have created these chaotic bursts of colour, this illusion of wildness. Beauty constructed is still beauty.


Up ahead pink stucco walls adorned with green shutters and Virginia creeper blend seamlessly into these gardens. A serene backdrop deliberately created.


An illusion of tranquility, I think, this house where Monet lived with another man’s wife.


Their combined eight children, friends dropping in from Paris, six full-time gardeners, the construction of a greenhouse and new studio, renovations to the main house; this place would have been a constant hive of activity. No order without chaos. No chaos without order. No beauty without either.


It’s striking, this juxtaposition of spellbinding beauty and the exhaustion of the everyday that would have existed in counterpoint here. Thirty people living, eating, working on this property daily.


How would he have found the peace and solitude to capture with such genius the light and colour that coexisted in serene harmony around him? Why did I assume reality wouldn’t dare intrude in such a place?


The recognition, wealth, fame.


His struggles with criticism, loss, depression.


Even genius isn’t a safeguard against the contradictions of everyday life.


A painted green bench so you can sit and contemplate the beauty before you.  A lazily drifting rowboat. Resting, on a mossy green bank.


Who has time for that?


 

We’re walking down a street in St. Catharines, Ontario, with our twenty-year-old son who’s doing his undergrad here. There’s a record store he wants to check out and he says he’ll show us his neighbourhood on the way. We’ve gone only a few blocks before he breaks quietly away from us.


I glance behind me to see what’s caught his notice. There’s a man, sitting on the pavement, hunched against a parking meter. I catch a quick glimpse of his weather-beaten face and matted beard before he lowers his head toward the sidewalk. His oversize flannel jacket is unbuttoned revealing an ill-fitting hoodie that hangs on his gaunt frame. One running shoe has no laces, the other has worn through the sole. At his feet, belongings in a cardboard shoebox.


I watch as my son crouches down so he can look the man in the eye. He quietly hands him some cash but stays focused on the man’s face as though the money is incidental. I hear him ask the man how he is today. They remain like that, talking, for many minutes but I’m too far along the sidewalk now to hear their words.


This vivid memory returns while I walk through Monet’s paradise created. I remember sitting in a psychology classroom discussing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; those without food, shelter, security, stability have no time to devote to the search for beauty. I didn’t know the man but no, the cost of a train ticket from Paris and a flight from Canada, two weeks’ vacation, eleven euros for admission; this was not his reality. With few resources perhaps the search for beauty wasn’t a priority for him, but means and circumstances did not preclude the possibility of his being a witness to beauty. I hope it came to him as he sat looking into my son’s face. It came to me as I watched. Because unlike me, the boy didn’t see the person living on the streets. He saw the man.


 

The pond with its artistically placed water lilies expands in front of me. My eye follows the rushes and reeds standing tall at the banks further beyond, my gaze drawn upward to the shrubs behind. Ever upward toward the trees that reach up to a cloud-covered sky. From these towering giants to the smallest of plants at my feet, every shutter click of my camera captures a work of art.


If the shutter clicked on my life, on myself, what would it capture?


Days later I stand in front of these same scenes in the oval rooms at le Musee d’Orangerie in Paris’s Jardin des Tuileries. These giant curving panels, Monet’s final works, evoke the same sense of wonder and oneness I felt in Giverny. Unconsciously, I slow my breathing, become part of my surroundings. I feel the ripples, the heavy droop of willow branches. Experience again the light that played throughout his garden. Recapture beauty in his hazy re-creation of a water lily. These canvases are alive. This was Monet’s intention; to let you immerse yourself in his painting and forget the outside world, to create a haven of peace in which to contemplate the beauty around you.


And in this quiet it softly settles into me. Perception and reflection. Shifting. Timeless. Monet didn’t paint this garden once.  He recreated this scene over 250 times. Over a span of almost thirty years.


Beauty is what you open your eyes to.

Karen Moore

Author / 

Karen Moore is a writer, pianist, and composer based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Pivoting after a thirty-year teaching career, her studio-turned-writing-sanctuary continues to be a creative space for her art and her voice; she’s still weaving melodies, just with a different medium. Her work has appeared in Beyond Words, Slippery Elm, Red Noise Collective, So To Speak, 50-Word Stories, and has been longlisted for multiple international awards and contests.

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