The Snake in the Garden: Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer in NYT:

Once upon a time a friend told me about a retreat house in the hills of California. I drove three hours north from my mother’s home and came upon an 800-acre spread, with golden pampas grass tumbling down to a great expanse of blue 1,200 feet below. The place was radiantly silent — save for bells tolling three or four times a day — and I was so far from telephone and laptop that I could lose myself for hours in anything at all, or nothing. At dusk, deer stepped into my private garden to graze; an hour later, I stepped out of my room and found myself under an overturned saltshaker of stars.

The retreat house was the rare place where it seemed impossible to be fraught. All my worries of the previous day seemed about as real and urgent as the taillights of cars disappearing around headlands 12 miles to the south. I started to go to this place of silence more and more often, and one spring day, on my way to two weeks of carefree quiet, I told my old friend Steve about it. Much to my delight, he booked himself in for a three-day stay that would coincide with my final weekend in the sanctuary.

I stepped into my cabin on the slope above the sea, 12 days before our meeting — golden poppies and lupines everywhere — and instantly began to wonder how Steve would see it. What if the sky clouded over before his arrival, I thought, and he was greeted by rain and mist? Maybe the vegetarian food set out in the kitchen would fail to meet his exacting standards? What about the crosses on the walls? Might they trigger some unsuspected trauma from his Roman Catholic boyhood? Every day for the next 10 days I worried that the place might not live up to his expectations — or my billing. More:

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