If you’re a local you might already know Judy. She volunteers at school and helps at a food bank…but have you seen her garden? You won’t be the same afterwards.
Judy is from Syria. Her Arabic name is Na’ifa. The English translation means, ‘blessed, beautiful, exalted’. She met an American engineer while he was working overseas and they later married. They are well traveled and talking with them is exciting. To try and describe what they’ve created over the years, I merged definitions of an oasis: a fertile region in a desert like area; a place of refuge with cool water. This literally defines Rick and Judy’s property which has natural springs. They’ve fortified the earth by transforming it into an interlude, a respite like the holy Psalms.
People who cultivate and produce in this soil, impress me. The amount of labor, patience and endurance demands respect. Especially when South Carolinian dirt is mostly comprised of red clay.
My first visit, we sipped strong herbal Syrian tea and walked along a stone path. These are flat, heavy stones she hauled from a nearby quarry. That’s quite the feat considering Judy stands about five feet tall. Her frame is slight, petite but the woman is no wilting flower. She’s strong, lithe and proud of her work. This path leads you by a green fence draped in grape vines. It guides you past Gardenias, Black-Eyed-Susans, Lilies, Zinnias, Roses, Hostas and Hydrangeas. She points out yellow squash and pulls up horseradish leaves for a salad. She has cucumbers and eggplant..peppers and melons..tomatoes, berries, plums, pears, green onion and wild garlic. Judy absent mindedly runs her hands up the rosemary and lemon thyme releasing fresh scents. The aroma is so powerful, I actually feel dizzy.
“So, you want to see my garden?” she asks. I nod…thinking…there’s more..more than all of this?
Our boys have disappeared to a pond stocked with vibrant goldfish. The kids reappear when Judy revs an atv engine to life. The kids get on one and she climbs on the other. I must have had a wary look because she smiles and says, “It’s okay. Totally safe, here. Trust me”
And stepping out of ultra cautious parent character, I did. I let my kids ride an atv without helmets in an unfamiliar place before dark. But you know what? It was okay. This is a safe place. The first visual is a panoramic span of Blue Ridge mountains. They tower over this hidden mecca like silent guardians, a strong backstop to lean against and sigh.
Since writing this, I’ve been three more times..with a Nikon camera. Judy doesn’t mind if I take photos even though she spent her entire day working here. She’ll sit on the dock with me or slip off her shoes and unclog one of the pond drains while I look for dark red plums straight off the tree. Those are sweeter than the lighter ones. The birds know that too and they’re hard to find now.
What I’ve seen has changed me..the intelligent design and resourceful engineering is inspiring. They’ve moved stubborn, rocky earth and reshaped it into a setting so majestic it takes hold of you. Dedication and love resound off lily pads with pink and white blossoms that open and close with the day, croaking bull frogs and silver minnows darting in ponds. A long legged water bird pauses and then flies off when we approach. She explained that’s how the reeds grew here (the ones that clog the drain) transplanted from birds walking in different bodies of water. Rick built three ponds in cascading tiers sending spring water down an intricate drain pipe system to flow from the first into the second which empties into the lowest.
I’ve tried to portray the intense beauty but my photographic images are flat and dull compared to being there…hearing and feeling the atmosphere. They’re fascinating people with extensive knowledge of animal habitats and botanical science. Na’ifa’s garden is tangible, pulsing life. I imagine ancient Chaldeans and Macedonians living in Mediterranean glory like this, walking in a blessed, beautiful, exalted place. You receive what it offers, sublime happiness.