Editor’s Note: This is the sixth and final edition in a series of stories about local gardens featured in the tour “Literary Lawns, Town and Country” to benefit Athens-Limestone Public Library from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, June 9. Tickets are $15 each at Athens-Limestone Public Library, Crawford’s, Pablo’s on Market, Pimentos, Suzanne’s Bakery and Trinity’s Gifts and Interiors.
1609 Elkton Road
“Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”
Mildred Johnston says Robert Frost’s 1923 “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” is very near and dear to her heart, though on a garden tour in the Alabama June heat, summoning the mental landscape of a traveler by horse on the darkest night of the year, who stops to watch woods filling up with snow, now seems more like a mirage.
The poem’s persona thinks it beautiful, but the horse, being an animal and not a man, cannot appreciate beauty, so shakes his harness bells and thereby reminds the man like a spokesperson for civilization that he has some distance yet to travel before they can find food, shelter, and rest for the night.
And Mildred’s farmhouse, as she calls it, to which we have travelled is “naturally landscaped, nothing formal.”
While hard to imagine in the cicada songed, sultry summer sun, Mildred nonetheless loves seeing the wintry snow blanketing the barn, kissing the treetops, powdering the pond’s edge here in the countryside. But what she does have, which is a bit off the beaten path, or “the road not taken,” should I say, around back, adorned with azaleas, roses, and iris inside her lovely split rail fence, is, of all things, a regulation size croquet court, which her husband Sid brought in 75 loads of dirt to build, then planted in a hybrid Bermuda.
Croquet, a recreational lawn game, which took England by storm in the 1860s before it popped over the ocean and became a family backyard pastime in America, involves hitting ceramic or wooden balls through hoops called “wickets” embedded into grass. And this playing court Mildred mows herself—well, along with the help of near horse-sized Newfoundland, Molly Belle.
So the garden tourist, like the speaker in the poem, does not stop there and stay, neither imagining the woods filling up with snow nor watching the croquet game being demonstrated on the day of the tour, for we have ...
“promises to keep,
And miles to go before [we] sleep.
Miles to go before [we] sleep.”
— Guest writer, Bebe Gish Shaw, Ph.D., is a professor of English at Athens State University.