Sitting quietly in her herb garden, Wren Bay listens to the buzz of the bees. She is trying to find comfort in their familiar sound and not let the distress over missing her Devlin, who has gone to war, overwhelm her. It has only been two weeks since he left to fight in a part of the world so torn apart, Wren cannot even imagine. She has been steeling herself for what is to come. Wren is resolved to keep busy and promises herself to be strong like Devlin, but she is human and is struggling. After all, how do you say goodbye when you have just said hello?
Wren could spend her days sitting here among the basil and lavender, missing her better half. But no, she is not going to spend this separation lost in the void that is in her. She has laid out a plan and reminds herself to focus on it. Wren has promised herself and her husband to use this separation to better herself. To grow and work on her dreams, their dreams.
Wren is a newlywed and actually had not planned to be married at 19. However, love comes in and takes one by surprise sometimes. Wren is not only missing her dear Devlin but also is struggling with her dream of learning how to take this perfect old, stone house and make it into a home. She aspires to learn how to make the most of what she is gifted with and create a space that will comfort and support them both. Wren has a vision of what she wants to create for Devlin when he comes back to her. The first time she saw him in the park, lost and in such distress, she wanted to make a home for him. Wren can see a hole in Devlin and wants to help fill it.
It will take a lot of creativity to make the most of what she has. She will need to look at everything with new eyes and concentrate on her strengths and skills, as limited as they are. But she loves a challenge and looks at this situation as a chance, not a loss. Even though she has a sense of what she wants to accomplish, she cannot quite put her dreams into words yet. Meeting Devlin created this dream and now a goal burns in her heart. She knows herself well enough that if she listens to her heart and not her fears, she will be on the right path. Wren is not sure what the path is or where it is even where it is headed. But she does know what the first few steps are and this is where she will begin.
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer.
~Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Sigh … Well, the first step is not sitting here is this exquisite herb garden feeling sorry for herself.
“How could anyone be sad looking at this 90-year old stone house that sits on such a beautiful, gentleman’s farm?” Wren questions herself as she smoothes out the soft folds in her gray/blue lawn skirt. This is Bay Farm, a 200 acre dairy farm in Massachusetts. The front of the stone house looks down upon fruit orchards and a small lake as a drive curves its way up through apples, peaches, plums and pear trees to the sand colored, stone house.
The minute Wren and Devlin pulled into the drive six weeks ago, she sighed, a happy sigh. As they wound their way to the front of the house she felt any worry drop from her. Wren had only heard about Bay Farm from Devlin. It was so much more than he had told her. The house was not huge but it had grace and a simple grandeur as it overlooked its ethereal domain. It was a late afternoon in the beginning of June. 1917 and the air was sweet and heady with the smells of flowering trees, cows and roses. As Wren stepped out of the car she was overwhelmed with the beauty of the house, her home. Wren could never have foreseen such a house in her future. As a little girl she would dream of castles and fairy houses. But Bay Farm felt like a fairy house to a grown-up Wren.
Large white double doors with an arched awning welcomed Wren. Roses climbed up the columns and draped over the awning. The second floor had three bowed windows across the front of the house. To the right a long laurel hedge fronting a large kitchen garden. To the left side of the house was a low stone wall wrapped around the herb garden.
Devlin watched Wren take it all in. He could have stood there watching her face for the rest of eternity but he suddenly scooped her up in his arms ready to carry her over the threshold.
Wren pleaded, "Devlin put me down. I can walk, I think!" Her head was spinning for so many reasons.
"Dear, please let me have a few traditions." Devlin requested. They had only met five weeks ago and not much of their life so far had been traditional. Wren had married Devlin in a simple garden wedding the day before. She knew she had married a sweet, sensitive man. She laid her head on his broad shoulder as he carried her into their home.
They stood there in the large hall with the steep staircase. She would have liked to stay scooped up in Devlin’s arms but he set her down as he took her hand. “I will give you a tour of your domain, Mrs. Bay.” He grinned as he started leading her through the house.
In a circle to his left was a small sitting room with a two large windows, formal but inviting. The sitting room was painted a very pale cream with high beamed ceilings. A small marble fireplace had a large oil painting of a stone-walled garden hung above it. Two small gray silk settees sat on either side of the fireplace and a very large bouquet of pink roses had been placed on a small table fronting the fireplace. To the right under the large front window was a table for four with mother of pearl inlay. Devlin’s mother, Grace, was drawn to the inlaid flowered edge, which curved around the table. The flowers had reminded Grace of the nasturtiums that grew along the edge of her herb garden. The windows were open and the simple white cotton curtains moved in the soft breeze.
“Stunning,” murmured Wren. “I like the simple elegance of this room.” Soft gray is her favorite color.
“My mother just had this room redone a year ago. She was inspired by the decors of Europe. She had been studying the style and had more plans for the house but sadly…” he stopped. Wren saw that sadness in Devlin’s eyes and wanted to take it away. She knew that pain. She also knew she could not take it away. Instead, she kissed Devlin tenderly. “What is next?” she asked.
He led Wren through heavily carved double doors into the library. Devlin explained that Daniel, Devlin’s father, had this library built especially for Grace. Both Devlin and Daniel had carved the light oak doors as a gift to Grace. Devlin took his mother’s herb sketches and used them as inspiration for their carvings. The library was lined with tall book cases in the same light oak. Grace chose light oak for the library because the room was so small and she wanted to keep the library light and airy. A small, feminine desk fronted the tiny fireplace. In the corner sat a burgundy velvet chair next to a glass door that led to a garden.
Wren was immediately drawn to the garden. It looked so verdant and cool.
“Like heaven,” Wren thought.
As Wren started to move towards the door, Devlin gleefully held onto her hand and teased. "Oh no! That surprise is for later." He beamed. She really did not want to wait but he pulled her into the next room.
Wren observed that this long room ran across the entire length of the back of the house. She could immediately tell this was where the family spent their time. Several big, comfortably faded, tapestry couches were placed in front of a large stone fireplace. A chess table resided in one corner and a piano in the other. More glass doors offered a view across the field and into the woods. This room had wood paneling like the library. However, it felt much more masculine with the mounted deer heads over the fireplace, Wren noted.
The next room they entered was the bright, sunny kitchen, which was quite large. This pleased Wren very much. She could imagine her French copper pots hanging over the big wood worktable, which had little cow figurines grouped along the back side of the table. Wren could see bottles of dried herbs around the kitchen. Over a small eating table were groupings of framed paintings and sketches of cows grazing in the fields.
Lastly, after going through a marble butler’s pantry full of china and crystal, they entered the dining room. The French doors opened onto a kitchen garden. This surprised Wren because it was not a formal garden, although it felt formal for a kitchen garden.
“My father had a passion for growing vegetables and my mother had one for cooking. It was a lovely marriage of interests.” Devlin said with a bittersweet tone to his voice. Wren very much liked this kitchen garden, mostly for the unconformity of the choice. The skill and creativity Daniel had used in planting of the vegetables gave the garden a formal feel. He used the textures, colors and shapes to create intricate patterns in the formal beds.
“The garden is just like us, dear.” Wren smiled at Devlin. He was getting lost in her dove gray eyes again.
He then swept her back into the front hall and kissed her.
Sigh … again she could spend all day sitting here replaying over and in her mind that day six weeks ago they first came to Bay Farm. But no, she told herself, “I need to focus”. Wren pulls out of her pocket the list she made two weeks ago, just before Devlin left and read it again. She has pulled out this list so many times in the past two weeks that it is already starting to fall apart. This is her list of blessings. She knows she will need this visual reminder of all she is blessed with.
“This is going to be my beacon of light during the dark times ahead.” Wren wishes.
Even though this is a time of hardship, Wren knows she is very blessed, much more than many. She cannot wallow in self-pity or fear and be in God’s will at the same time. She has to choose. Will this be a time to crush her or make her the woman she was created to be?
Wren’s list of blessings is a place to start. “What do I have at my disposal? What can I learn from?” Wren ponders in the shade of the big bay tree. Her husband’s farm is the obvious place to start and one of her many blessings. Wren really does not know much about Devlin’s childhood home and has not a clue what to do with most of it. Luckily, she does not have to.
The caretaker, Seth Harrison and his family, live on acreage on the other side of the lake. Seth's grandfather, Connor, had been the caretaker of Bay Farm for the Bay family since the beginning of the farm. When Connor became too old, Seth and his wife, Mary, became the caretakers.
Devlin had actually begged Wren to move back to Boston and stay with her aunt until he came back home from the war because he feared that she did not really understand what living on the farm would be like. Devlin was afraid that by the time he got back she would not want to live at Bay Farm anymore. He tried to reason with Wren that she had only been at Bay Farm one month and would not really miss it but Wren refused. This is her home now. But she does secretly tell herself if it is too much she can move back to Boston anytime. Wren wants to be a proper mistress of Bay Farm and there is so much she can learn here.
With America just entering World War1, everyone is unsure what the future holds. Times are becoming lean and Wren feels she needs to be smart and make frugal choices. Besides, she is always looking for a new chance to grow.
Wren stands speechless looking at the herb garden. She in awe of the overwhelming beauty of this small space. Devlin’s mother, Grace created this magical garden that Wren is so drawn to. She has never seen such a garden! It makes her feel the way Mary Lenox did when she found the Secret Garden.
A low stone wall winds its way around the garden with an arch at the far end through which lies the fields. In the center of the garden is a water fountain with herbs planted in circles around it. Pathways meander through the herbs and around the fountain. The scent of the herbs is intoxicating. Mixed with the gurgling of the water and the fresh green one could get lost in this space.
“Mother loved to sit in her library with the glass door wide open to the herbs. These were both loves of hers and she delighted in being able to enjoy them both at the same time. This is where she spent most of her days.” Devlin had told Wren. Daniel built the library and herb garden for his wife for this very reason. She was his happiness and he wanted to gift back to her the same happiness. It brought him such joy every time he saw Grace reading in her library and enjoying the scent of the herbs.
Wren does not know much about herbs, but she senses this garden will be part of the plan for her life. She felt drawn to it the minute Devlin had shown her the library. While he did not tell Wren this, it made his heart sing when he sensed how much Wren loved the garden, just like it made Daniel’s heart sing. It was a comfort to Devlin that Wren was very much like his mother Grace, whom he loved and respected.
As she stands in this magical garden Wren decides she needs to learn more about herbs. She has a faint memory of her great-grandmother Claire picking chamomile and making tea for her when her kitty, Miss Daisy, had died. Her grandmother said it would calm her and help her to not be so sad. Chamomile looks like a small daisy and that somehow made little Wren feel better.
Remembering this reminds Wren of the pain in her heart now. She has not been sleeping well at all and is crying herself to sleep most nights. Wren knows it is too soon to receive any letters from Devlin, but she writes to him most days. She is not even sure if he will get her letters. Still it makes her feel better to write him all that is in her heart.
It is becoming dusk and Wren looks for chamomile in the garden. She wants to make a cup of tisane, a fresh herb tea Madame Mimi, her Aunt Sophia’s French cook, had taught her to make. Wren finds the small, white flowers growing in a corner of the garden. She picks eight flower heads, takes them to the kitchen and gently rinses them. Wren sets the chamomile in a pink lusterware cup and fills it with hot water. She covers the cup with the saucer so the oils from the herb will not escape. After five minutes she strains out the blossoms and sweetens the tea with honey from Bay Farm apiaries. As she sips her tea, enjoying the apple taste of the chamomile, she begins her nightly ritual of writing in her blessing book. Devlin had given her a pale blue velvet covered book the day before he left.
“This book is for you, Wren. It is to write your blessing in. I was thinking if you could every day write a blessing it might be helpful. I cannot be here to comfort you, but I am hoping this book of your blessing will help you see all that you have – to know you are not abandoned.” Devlin had written the first blessing on the first page. All that was written was, Wren.
“Devlin has much more faith in me than I have in myself at the moment.” Wren sighs. At first she had struggled to write a blessing each night. It was hard to see anything good with Devlin gone but she did it because she knew it pleased both Devlin and God. Each night it became easier and easier for her to see a blessing in her day.
Just before Wren drifts off to sleep, she makes a note to look in the library and see if there are any books about herbs.
Wren’s blessing tonight is chamomile tea.
Tisane (a word of French origin, pronounced tea-ZAHN), is an herb infusion made from anything other than the leaves of the tea bush (Camellia sinensis). Leaves, flowers, steams, fruit, peels, spices can all be used to make a tisane, as long the plant itself is not poisonous. Be aware some plants only have poisonous portions, like leaves or flowers. So you need to know your plant well. Tisane can be made with fresh or dried herbs. But to me, a tisane is a tea made with something fresh, not dried. So my recipe only uses fresh herbs.
Simply set six or so chamomile blossoms in a cup. Bring water to a boil, fill cup with hot water and immediately cover the cup with a plate so you do not lose the oils from the plant in the steam. Let sit five minutes, sweeten to your liking and enjoy.