The Gifts From Irene The making of a Stonehenge Garden

"The Gifts From Irene"

The making of a Stonehenge Garden

My story begins on the 28th of August, 2011 at about 2:00 in the afternoon, as I'm painting in my studio on the 3rd floor of our home in Colrain....

I'm looking out the window at the river in our back garden (The West Branch of The North River) as it begins to spill out over its banks. Water is now rushing into my garden, running round my house into our pond. There's a sudden banging at our front door.

"Get out of the house, it's going to be washed away!" My neighbor says, "come up to our house, it's safer there."

Michael, my partner responded: "We're staying right here. The house survived the ‘37 flood, the ‘87 flood and it's going to survive this one."

I said “I don't think so,” as I continued to paint faster.

We heard the announcer on the weather channel say "the Eye of the storm is going over Colrain Massachusetts." Thinking that meant we would be in the clear, I said "It's raining harder now than it was before." Then the TV and all the power went out. We went downstairs to our kitchen, which is located on the ground floor.

Through our windows we could see fish swimming in our garden. I went back upstairs. I said, "I feel like we're on the Titanic and it's about to sink!” Suddenly we heard what sounded like a water fall coming from downstairs in our kitchen Our back door, the one that leads to our kitchen, had opened. Water was pouring in. Michael rushed downstairs, with our dog following him. Water was pouring in like crazy. Spotty was swimming in it!

Pots and pans were floating all over the place. Michael pushed the door closed. Who would think of locking your door when you're in the house. Then suddenly as quickly as it came in, the water level dropped. Something happened downstream in Shelburne Falls. There was plenty of mud to replace the water.

That evening we went to sleep on the top floor, where our bedroom is. With no power, and much concern.

The following morning the sun was shinning, the sky was blue. The water in the river had subsided. All I could see was sand and mud. "We have beach front property" I said to Michael.

When he went downstairs into the kitchen and saw the water with all pots and pans floating in it he said: "sell the house!” I immediately started picking up the pots and pans.

"Not me" I said.

When we went outside it was like the scene from a bad movie. Hard to describe. I had forgotten about our shed. Thankfully it was still there, as I had over 200 of my paintings in it. I removed the door and found them still inside covered in 2 feet of mud. I began to take them out of the shed. We brought them over to our restaurant and hosed them off, to dry in the sun.

When we returned to the house there were lots of people walking around. Two particular couples were dressed as if they were going on a safari. They were taking pictures of one of my garden hands that was sticking out from the mud.

"It's the hand of God,” one of them said.

"Get off my property!" I responded.

Afterwards, several people commented to me: "You used to have a beautiful garden," and a few even chuckled and seemed to be laughing. I said " Wait until you see the next one."

Suddenly I was filled with this whole idea of creating a new garden. My pallet was cleared by the storm, I had a whole new canvas to work with. I just wasn’t sure where to begin. There was so much to do, so much to clean up, and dig out from.

The flood had cleared a woodland that is located past where my garden had once been. As we walked through this area I began to find old car doors and old hoods from trucks that were buried there. When we first bought our home in 1969 it was a cooperage. Many old cars and trucks had been covered over by the people who sold the property to us. I never saw them, but there were always suspicions in my mind that they were buried there. Irene had resurfaced them by the storm.

“Great objects to add neon to,” I thought. I love to work with found objects. Michael and I began walking daily through the piles of found objects and saying what we would do with them. One section of an old car that is bent and twisted resembles a giant crab and with a bit if neon that is what it will become! We could just imagine it crawling out from the river. So much to work with they're...

"Gifts from Irene" I said. My enthusiasm began to grow.

One night I woke around 2 am, and went downstairs to our kitchen, I found myself drawing the new garden. First I thought about the pond. I wanted it back, It was such an important feature to the land. It needed an overflow but I didn't want it to be like the one that was there before. It had to be grand and beautiful to look at, I wanted it to be a work of art with huge rocks placed where the overflow would be. I could imagine the water flowing over them.

I had seen so many rocks and stones being placed in the river. Some had been pushed onto our land. What a source for the construction of our pond. The water flowing from them would empty into a smaller pond and down into another smaller pond and finallydown into the running stream.

I knew that I wanted the main feature to be where the sun rose on the summer solstice, where my garden used to be. I drew a circle on the paper and then a smaller circle in the center of that. I drew large standing stones all around the circle. Then I indicated rocks being placed on top of at least 2 or three of the standing stones. In the center I imagined 2 large stones supporting a round large stone.

People would walk through the arch and that would lead them to my new neon gallery. “It looks like Stonehenge,” I thought.

Crazy, why would I draw this? But I loved it. This is what it had to look like. I guess it was the solstice that made me draw such a design. These were all thoughts in my head. “I've got to do this,” I thought, “but how?” I couldn't do it myself.

Then suddenly sometime in early October of 2011, as if through divine intervention, Paul Forth who owns Stone Creations, entered my life. He is a neighbor who lives in Colrain. He had come to see what the storm had done. "Can I be of any help?” He asked. Although I had no idea what he was capable of at the time I showed him my drawing.

"I like it!” He said. Then he gave me some suggestions, which I agreed with. Then as if driven by magic, our project began. We didn't have much money. FEMA had given us $7000, but almost all of it went towards repairs on our house.

We began with the overflow of the pond. Though produced with a reasonable amount of money, it was beautiful with water cascading through the large rocks and stones that we placed. I had found a wonderful person, Scott Dennison, to help with the dredging of the pond. Together he and Paul created the overflow. Just as I had planned, water went into a smaller pond and then again into another smaller pond and finally into a stream. This eventually flowed back into the river, whose hurricane driven force had done the initial landscaping of this project.

Thinking our work was complete, we were thrilled with the project. Little did I know, we were only beginning. I had applied for a loan to fix our home and finally after receiving it, things began to happen in March of 2012. We continued to fix the house with the money we received, allocating a certain amount to the garden.

Then in April, a legal dispute over ownership of the building forced us to close our restaurant and pizzeria business in Colrain. The garden had to be put on the back burner for a while.

Finally with the small amount of money allotted to the garden and with the help of someone who had become a wonderful friend, Paul Forth, we were able resume work on the garden. In September we began to construct the circular portion of the garden. Instead of the the large round stone in the center Paul decided on a fire pit taking its place. “It's less expensive, and more useful and beautiful,” he reasoned.

I love the look of our new garden. People are already asking to see it. Though we hope to reopen our restaurant within the year, we are also planning for many events to take place in “Tonehenge,” as our stone garden has come to be known. We plan to put a wood burning Pizza oven in the garden and have concerts, garden parties, show my neon creations and garden sculptures, to bake bread and pastries to sell.

We look forward to "Art in The Garden" this Spring. A small amount of people can come in the evening, stroll the gardens, check out the neon art and eat. They can purchase my garden sculptures and buy Micheal's antiques and enjoy an art show. My paintings will be on display for purchase and there will be photography shows by Erinn Chalene Cosby as well.

People can check our website for events times and dates. I believe strongly in the motto "when you get lemons, you make lemonade." This is what we have accompished with the gifts Hurricane Irene gave us. As in the past, the phoenix always rises from the ashes.