Garden book review week: and I shall have some peace there

The beautiful cover of Margaret Roach's new book

You’ve read the stories of people who decided to drop out of the corporate buzzsaw. Cheering these slow-life pioneers from the sidelines, you may think, I’d like to do that too, but I can’t because . . . .

So, what happens when the cheering stops, and the new life begins? In 2007, about the same time I started RDR, I heard from a friend that Martha Stewart’s one-time, girl-of-all-trades, Margaret Roach, had chucked it all and gone to live in the woods. Not only that, she was blogging about it and with grace. I visited, enjoyed her writing and commented never expecting to hear back from her. I mean, after all, she was the former Editorial Director of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. I was surprised when she came by and left a comment or two on my blog when the occasion merited it. On Twitter, she also gave me the great tip to plant Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ instead of ‘Aureola,’ and she was right. ‘All Gold’ is much more beautiful in all seasons.

Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold' in late spring

Margaret’s new book reflects on why she left the corporate world and went to live in the woods, and it wasn’t because she and Martha had a falling out. They are still good friends. In fact, Martha wrote an eloquent blurb for the back of And I Shall Have Some Peace There: Trading in the Fast Lane for My Own Dirt Road, and Margaret was on Martha’s show last week. So, don’t buy the book expecting a bit of the tawdry scandal which fills our media these days. It’s not there.

One part naturalist’s notebook and one part expository memoir, I found much of her story very familiar because I had similar feelings when I left the corporate world sixteen years ago.

Who are you when you’re no longer mroach@marthastewart.com, or dnash@crowe_dunlevy.com? That sense of spinning like a whirling Dervish, or as Margaret puts it, feeling like the agitator in a washing machine, was all too familiar. She sat and stared out her window for a long, long time. I sat, folded clothes and watched Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Complete Series before I could string two thoughts together. I think Margaret had the better part. In fact, I know she did.

Just Jack on his throne. Thanks to Margaret Roach for the photo.

We had other things in common too right down to our asthma (something which never came up on Twitter) and a fear of getting hurt or dying alone. I worked blocks from the Oklahoma City Murrah Bombing. She lived through 9-11. Now, we both reside in the country about twenty minutes from anything resembling a town and blog about our gardens and our lives. She lives on the side of a mountain and can’t get out of her driveway when it snows. I live between the two towns of Edmond and Guthrie. I go to town quite frequently because I have children, but if I didn’t, you wouldn’t see me for weeks.

Margaret is a keen observer of her environment. Remember, she spent a great deal of time looking out that window over her laptop. She gives detailed information about the animal inhabitants of her home, from the many birds she is constantly rescuing from mating season window crashes to the frogboys who hang out in her ponds. There is also Jack, her once feral cat, who now reigns supreme from his pillow on the chair next to her.

Her climate is a harsh one especially in winter, and as I read those pages of the book set in winter, I kept thinking of George Harrison’s “Little darlin’, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter . . .”  I actually shivered some of the time. While the last two years in Oklahoma have had record breaking snowfall, that’s just a norm where she lives. I’m glad I live further south even if we do contend with late freezes and intense heat.

Margaret is brutally honest about her fears of lightning, asthma, storms and above all, snakes. She has two very different guides who help her see that her dreams of snakes are all about transformation.

Finally, spring comes, and she finally feels like she is both at home and shedding her corporate skin. I especially enjoyed those places where she discussed the environment around her. One section in particular sums up what I like most about Margaret when yet another bird, a male scarlet tanager crashes and burns.

“‘No you’re not, no you’re not,’ I am saying to the reddest bird of all, his color as surprising as when I’ve come upon the cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, in the shade of the woods here . . . . He is so limp, even I am not certain, but it is what I want people to say to me on the bad days, when I grow afraid, and what I tell myself. Birds of a feather; do unto others.”

It shows her depth of understanding, her innate kindness and self-effacing manner all in one.

Perhaps, one day, Margaret will be on a book tour somewhere within three states, and I’ll get to meet her face-to-face. That would be fun, but after reading And I Shall Have Some Peace There, I feel like I know her already.

If you’d like to know more, there is also a really good Q&A interview with her on Rural Intelligence.

15 Comments

  1. Jo says:

    Great review Dee! I have this on my to-read list, maybe I’ll bump it up!

  2. I enjoyed your review and how you saw so many similarities to your own experiences, Dee. I have heard of her book, but after reading your thoughts, I’m convinced that it’s time for me to actually go out and get it and read it.

  3. Janell West says:

    Dee,

    Your review reminded me of book report days in junior high English class, when I couldn’t wait to get to the library to check out that great book just reviewed by the librarian.

    How neat (guess I’m really reverting back now — soon I’ll be saying, “cool” and “you know”) that you’ve visited each others blogs and have so much in common. Makes me wonder how reading this book will shape the one steeping in your own heart.

    Janell

  4. VW says:

    I’ll have to run (figuratively) over to my library’s website and place a hold on that book, sounds like a good one. I can read the winter parts and feel less sorry for myself that winter is still going strong around my garden!

  5. Dear Dee, This is the best kind of book review where you know so much about the author and speak of her so warmly and eloquently! I always learn so much from your postings. P x

  6. Rose says:

    This sounds like a great read, Dee. Though I was never part of the corporate world as the two of you were, my life was certainly more hectic and fast-paced before I retired. Now I can’t believe how oblivious I was before to those small moments in nature that fill me with joy.

  7. Lydia Plunk says:

    THANK YOU for the book recommendation.

    If 3 be a stack- I have this stack of gift store book cards waiting for me to be inspired.

    Which you did.

  8. Helen says:

    I have no idea who Margaret or Martha Stewart are but I really enjoyed your book review. It sounds as though the book really struck a chord with you

  9. I am laughing to be adding to a comment thread that includes the phrase “full-frontal gardening” (thanks Patrick).

    And thank you, Dee, for the kindness you always extend to all of us who dig in the dirt (although if I hadn’t seen it myself once when giving a lecture in Shawnee years ago, I’d never believe that red stuff of yours is soil!).

  10. I see some paralells with my life as well Dee. I had the killer global marketing communications job with GE before I involuntarily gave it up when I became a quadriplegic. The transition to “normal life’ was harrowing. But today with the help of family and friends, full-frontal gardening is now my passion and I get to share that passion with the blogging community. Thanks for the review and I hope to savor the book.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Patrick, what interesting stories we all have. I’m sorry you lost your job and for that reason, but I’m glad you’ve now turned your difficulties into a new passion. The blogging community has been so invigorating to me also, and I’m grateful for your friendship.

  11. Donna says:

    It is in the pile of must reads and I am glad Dee…it is funny how so many of us come to this gardening and blogging world..usually we crashed and burned or walked away from something…I was forced to move on and that was why I started the blog…it was a healing, a way to move on to the next part of my life…it is good knowing we are not alone and can so relate..thx for that and for coming by my blog when you can and leaving a comment..it means the world to me!!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Donna, I think her book will be very popular because it resonates with so many of us. Healing is a good word to use, and blogging does make us feel in an increasingly distant world, emotionally at least, that we are not along. I love to read your blog. There are so many of us out there writing about our passions.

  12. Carol says:

    Yes, I remember when Margaret began tweeting and introduced us to her blog. She provides a lot of excellent gardening information on via A Way to Garden. I’m also struck by the similarities you pointed out between yourself and Margaret, though I know there are keen differences, too. Can I be there if someday you should meet Margaret in person? I’d like to meet her, too!

    (Now off to finish reading her book myself.)

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Carol, you may have been the one who told me she was blogging. She does provide excellent information, and I’ve found many plants which are not normally grown in Oklahoma through her words.

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