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The Intimate Lives of Single Women

an excerpt – Intervale Gardens

I spent three days in an inn that is truly a stone's throw from the Saint John River in New Brunswick. I love the river's black depths and sparkling surface, its meandering, slow course, the powerful Bay of Fundy tides that push high up inland and then turn, pulling the river out to the bay.

I was profoundly soothed by this river and by the little-engine-that-could cable ferry, chugging across it, back and forth, taking long, silent pauses in the night but ready and waiting should someone apear on one bank or the other. I lay on the wobbly wooden dock and felt the rhythm of the dark water beneath me, breathing deep of the musty, fishy smell of the marsh behind. There were pin cherries and sumac and wild apples hanging over the nearby narrow roads, and loosestrife, pickerel weed, and lilies on the ponds. Duck panicked and flustered up into the sky, sqawking.

The river wanders and spreads at several points, around low islands, into marshes, making secret channels known only to osprey and heron. The edges of the river are loosely defined in places: land that is sometimes under water, sometimes dry, depending on weather and tides and season, is known as the intervale. It is an unpredictable terrain, where the soil is rich and where some optimistic people create gardens, so-called intervale gardens where they plant vegetables every spring.

Here I met a courageous woman. Shortly after turning 50, Glenna was in an accident on the river road. Her pelvis was broken in three places, arm fractured, heel smashed. Over three years of recuperation she slowly regained strength, exercising and bearing more and more weight in water. She has deep scars and deeper back pain. Otherwise, she is lean and tough, and she dresses provocatively, a chiffon camisole under a low-cut denim dress one day, a stretchy bustier and flowered skirt the next.

Her passion is old houses – a costly hobby, she said ruefully – and in particular the farmhouse she lives in and another that she bought with the idea of developing. It boasts a long waterfront where she has made an intervale garden.

It is the river that draws and keeps her here. she has a small wooden dinghy that she sails alone. She has cats, a perennial garden, and vibrant art and big dreams. Hers is the kind of place and life that makes you think, This is too much for a single woman – dow does she do it? But she does. It was Glenna who told me about intervale gardens.

The lives of many single women are like intervale gardens. They are chancy, a little eccentric, and definitely not everyone's choice. They require much attention and hard work. They are always vulnerable to external forces but respond well to redesign and reinvention. It takes time to learn to cultivate an intervale garden. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don't, but when they do, the rewards are rich. They require resilience, stubbornness, fortitude.

Some would say an intervale garden is a foolish indulgence, a waste of time. Others wouldn't have it any other way.

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