Opinion: Arnold Arboretum is place of enchantment

April 18, 2008
By

Secret gardens are scarce in the city. There are even fewer enchanted rabbit holes. Should the heroines of beloved children’s stories materialize somehow in Boston, they needn’t worry, though. I can recommend someplace to them. There is, after all, the Arnold Arboretum.

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s and Lewis Carroll’s creations were not on my mind during a recent nostalgic walk through that city-centered strip of countryside. Stories of my own life surrounded me, instead. It was just as captivating, though. Years of trips to the Arboretum came back to me on that mammoth walk, which I took for no particular reason, other than I felt like it.

I began on Hemlock Hill Road and looked up at the view of a stream in the foreground, the hilly field beyond and, finally, a crown of trees. When I was a child, I used to imagine a little house on that hill, like a Swiss chalet. And the setting became in my young imagination a lovely surrogate for the Alps.

I continued walking towards Conifer Path just off Valley Road. Just a few yards from the intersection of those two routes is a mass of boulders. Many years ago, my dog, a goat-like animal in spirit, appetite and looks, used to love climbing on them. I imagined her standing there like the queen of all she surveyed. Mittens is gone now.

Just beyond the path is a nicely situated field where, as a goofy teen, I one day decided to yell out quotations from Shakespeare. It was fun. And not as embarrassing as the time I was inspired to sing out that the hills were alive with the sound of music, only to hear someone promptly echo me somewhere in the unseen distance.

I walked past the row of lilacs on Bussey Hill. They always elicit thoughts of Lilac Sunday. And the bend in that road always reminds me of the time a child cupped my dog’s chin in his tiny hand, gazed at her and delivered the following judgment. “Nice eyes, dirty toes.”

Then there was the other kid who pointed straight at Mittens and happily declared, “Cat!”

I reached the Hunnewell Visitor Center, made a right onto Willow Path and headed back. The gravel crunched under my shoes, and the sharp scent of pine trees struck me as I eventually wrapped up my walk.

I do think those children’s story characters would be at home here. Even without the enchanted rabbit holes.

Aniko Nagy
Roslindale

The writer was born and raised in Jamaica Plain.