The Soul of a Speaker and Serendipity at the Spring Fling

Another pathway in the Japanese GardenAfter our morning of wildflower sightseeing, we had lunch at Nuevo Leon, which was good, but the best part was Tom Spencer from Soul of the Garden. His talk, “Gathered Stones, Garden Memories,” quickly drew me in when he asked if we’d had a treasure box as a child. I saw my own cigar box, which resided under my bed for most of my childhood.

What were those treasures? He suggested perhaps a feather, stones, a small piece of bone, or the remnant shells of a broken bird egg. All around the room, heads nodded in agreement. He quoted from Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv and Ordinarily Sacred by Linda Sexson. He said our sense of awe and wonder doesn’t seem to matter much anymore, and that we and our children are always looking for the next new thing.

He then asked a couple of questions. “Where was your special place?” For him, it was the property surrounding his childhood home with its stone walls carefully built by his father. The idea that he could explore his natural space, but within the comfort and safety of his father’s stone walls wasn’t lost on me. Although I lived in the city, there was a field at the end of my street. A small creek ran through it, and my friends and I spent most days exploring its wonders. Spencer asked why our small treasures (our memories) were so important to us. He answered his own question by saying “Our intention is what makes a thing become a ‘Thou’.” I believe he meant that our intention is what makes our memories and our small treasures (and the entire natural world around us) sacred. This sense of the sacred is what draws us to

Spencer said he was raised Catholic and born Buddhist (meaning that his ideology was centered in much of the teachings of Buddhism.) He said he was a follower of Christ and Buddha, but neither Christian nor Buddhist.

“Poetry, like gardening, is a sacred activity,” he said, and he recited a wonderful poem by Mary Oliver titled “The Summer Day.” As the words washed over me, my eyes filled with tears at its beauty and at the world’s beauty even in God’s most ordinary creatures. My dear friend, Mary Ann from Idaho Gardener had already introduced me to some of Mary Oliver’s poems. MA was sitting next to me and when she saw my eyes threatening to spill over, she grabbed my hand and mouthed “I know. I know.”

Me & Mary Ann“This is what God wants for us all,” said Spencer, “To be surrounded by approachable beauty, comforting sounds, the sun’s warmth on our arms.”

Spencer closed his talk with his own poem “Gathered Stones,” which he wrote for his father. (Scroll down to January 23–morning to find it.) He said we’d found each other, people who were trying to do “one little good deed at a time; one little act of patience; one little act of charity; and one little act of forbearance.”

As he spoke, I think all of us felt that approachable beauty and the sun on our arms. I know I did.


  1. debra says:

    Hi Dee, thanks for your note and for reminding me to return and read your wonderful post about Tom Spencer’s talk to the Austin Garden Bloggers’ Spring Fling.

    What strikes me is his admonition to think back to our special childhood places – where we felt safe and yet felt free to venture out and explore our natural worlds. These are sacred places – a garden, a field, the top of a mountain, in a boat on a still lake, or, for that matter, inside a potting shed….this thread that leads to the truth of things is one I keep seeking – and finding, thanks to the honesty of those I meet. xoxo Debra

    PS, the photo of you and Mary Ann….makes me smile, but also envious that I wasn’t with you two last month. I flew home from Austin (and my own adventures) this morning. Fun, but not the kind of craziness I would have enjoyed had I been with you two women!

    Debra, we’ll have fun at the Garden Writers Symposium in Portland this fall. His vision of childhood haunts enthralled me also.~~Dee

  2. Frances says:

    Dee, so glad you are a reporter, you touched on things I had forgotten Tom said, trying all the while to not let out a big sob of joy. I love the idea of the special treasure box and secret hiding places of our childhood. I was a tomboy too, out on my bike all over town, to the public gardens just down the street. Lots of nooks and crannies for hiding there and pretending. Thanks for the great story about a great talk.

    Frances, I thought the talk was splendid. Didn’t our hosts do a great job?~~Dee

  3. You are a love! There I am……..with you! I will send the CD straight away, darlin.


    Thanks, Sugah. I can’t wait.~~Dee

  4. This is a beautiful summary, Dee. It’s fun to imagine you as a little girl poking around with her friends by the creek, finding treasures to tuck in the cigar box under her bed.

    The holding back tears thing seems to have been a universal phenomenon!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Annie, thank you. I was a little Tomboy. My daughter, Bear, is too. It’s fun to see it in the next generation.~~Dee

  5. Boy do my notes stink! Thanks so much for this post. You’ve hit all the highlights of the talk & brought back more of my recollection of it (yes, I’m still suffering from sleep deprivation).

    “Sleep deprivation. . .” Me too, MMD. Me too. ;-).

  6. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    What a wonderful experience.

    It was.~~Dee

  7. Lori says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for the synopsis of Tom’s talk. I have a pretty bad hearing impairment, and I couldn’t catch much of the talk even though I was sitting fairly close to Tom. I could tell that what he was saying moved people, and I really hated missing it. Now I know why everyone was tearing up!

    (So thank you, thank you again.)

    Lori, I’m so glad I was able to help. I can hear as long as there isn’t a lot of conversation going on around me.~~Dee

  8. CurtissAnn says:

    Oh, honey, thank you for sharing this. What a gift of wonder and gratitude to know that so many loving souls are traveling this world with us. You give me much food for thought. I was fortunate indeed to have a great deal of my childhood where I could explore and play in the forests and rocky shores of Alaska. You made me remember that, and much more. Treasure!

    Love you…thanks for sharing so beautifully.

    Rosebud, it was a wonderful talk, and I loved meeting all the bloggers. Such kind and generous souls.~~Dee

  9. Dee, this is what we are all about, isn’t it?
    I’m so delighted Tom and his talk were there waiting for you in Austin.

    This little gospel light of mine.
    I’m gonna let it shine.


    Kathryn xxoxo

    Kathryn, yes. Amen.~~Dee

  10. Pam/Digging says:

    What a wonderful synopsis and review of Tom’s talk. I found it very moving too, and I’m glad to know others were touched by it. His talk gave us all a short respite and a reflective moment in the midst of a hectic day, didn’t it?

    Thanks, Pam. I really thought it was wonderful. Thanks for thinking of it.~~Dee

  11. mss @ Zanthan Gardens says:

    Wonderful summary of Tom Spencer’s talk. I think quite a few of us felt tears welling up and were trying to fight them back.

    (I saw you taking notes–you took very good ones. I’m glad you shared them with us.)

    Thanks, MSS. Comes from being a reporter. I have to take fast and hopefully good notes when I’m interviewing. I don’t use a tape recorder.~~Dee

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