Space to Remember
Tucked away down a single-track country lane in northwest Fife lies the village of Monimail. There are a handful of houses, surrounded by rolling green hillsides. When I visit in mid-Spring they are full of baby lambs.
While the houses in Monimail seem country-quaint with modern amenities, the crumbling stones in the graveyard tell of a community long gone. The better preserved stones bear names of people born in the early 1800s, while the writing on others has faded into illegibility.
The building in the middle of the cemetery has a roof lined with stone shingles, although many have fallen in, and I can see straight through the roof to the other side. It bulges and curves like something out of a fairy tale. As I walk through the tombstones, the air is silent but for the chirping of the birds in the trees.
Next to the cemetery there is a low gateway in a stone wall. I would have walked past it, assuming it led into a private garden, or more likely, to nowhere. But I had been given directions: you must go to Monimail, to see the secret garden.
The path started out like any other woodland trail - cleared dirt through the trees, streams and vegetation and tree roots. The first thing I saw was the abundance of wild garlic. Wild garlic grows in abundance. I’m used to seeing vast clumps of it clinging to the forest floor, but this was something else. I imagined that this is what the Garden of Eden must feel like, such abundance, such gifts from the earth.
It seemed to never end. The forest carried on, with tiny trails branching off, leading deeper into its midst. I’d never seen so much wild garlic, yet it just kept on going, a seemingly endless mass of vivid green.
A structure emerged from the woods. Sticks had been arranged all around a central tree, forming a sort of teepee around it. The branches were woven together, thick ones and thin ones intertwined, keeping the structure upright.
A swing hung from a tree branch, and there were benches and a few toys. A small fireplace marked the centre, although wild garlic poured in from the openings.
But what caught my eye were the bits of string. Pieces of acrylic yarn were tied to the branches, in bright pinks, blues and reds. They were wrapped around the branches, twisted around each other. Many were around the entrances to the tent, but others were simply looped around the stubs left by broken off branches.
This was indeed a very special place. And no ordinary tree fort. Such care had been taken, perhaps by children, or even by adults, in the wrapping of these branches. We were far enough from any houses that someone would have had to come here intentionally. This was a space specifically built, decorated, made to be special.
In another part of the wood, I came across a lone stone marker. It stood tall, well above my height, overgrown by wild garlic and creeping ivys. Bible verses were carved into its sides, weather-worn on some sides but well preserved on others.
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. HEBREWS XII: 14
It seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by dense vegetation. I wondered who would have taken the time and effort and expense to build such a monument in the middle of the forest; What must have been here, who must have been here in those days.
It seems to me that everyone is moving. Several of my friends are moving house, we’re downsizing our office, and all conversations seem to be around people getting rid of things. Unwanted appliances, old documents, furniture that there’s just not room for, things that at one time were so important but are no longer needed. Netti is making trip after trip to the charity shop, selling off her possessions on the Internet. Others just get rid of things, straight into the bin.
Netti was sent a box of buttons by a woman who was getting rid of them. It was a huge box, each type of button meticulously sorted into plastic baggies, which were then sorted into larger baggies according to their colour. We were sifting through, looking for buttons to sew onto our new garments.
At the bottom was a thin plastic bag, the sort you buy bulk vegetables in at the grocery store. It was tied in a loose knot, and inside were a random assortment of metal buttons. Many of them seemed to be memorial buttons, with army regiments printed onto them, or souvenir buttons, with European city names carved onto their surfaces. Each one was full of so much detail, the product of a great effort. Some of them must have meant a great deal to their original owners, yet here they were, discarded in the bottom of a box that was given away and given away again.
It can all feel a bit meaningless sometimes - the objects we collect, the places we visit, even the afternoons spent on a swing in a teepee in the middle of a forest. But I suppose we try our best and leave our mark however best we can, whether that’s through the goodness we do, or even through little bits of acrylic string wrapped around branches.
I suppose we may never see the impact. The person who spent their time wrapping string around branches may never know how much solace I took from their tiny act of remembering, but I do, and I suppose that’s all we can try for - that our deeds result in some sort of good.