05/22/2014 09:45 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

It's an Accessible Life: My 24-Hour Journey


Today feels like work, but I'm not doing the heavy lifting. Today's the day that a tree will be removed from my garden. Despite numerous attempts to restore it to health, it has died and the risk of it falling is real. I'm out here with the workmen watching them perform the painstaking and precise tasks they've repeated many times, but always in someone else's garden.


I'm grounded by this garden. It provides consistency and I rejoice in the cyclical nature of nature. Usually a constant in my life, the events of today upend what I came to depend upon and, surprisingly, I feel as uprooted as the tree. It's all about getting the support one needs to perform, and in my work bringing universal design to everyone (my passion and vision) every day is a new performance with no do-over.

It is also a place I can retreat in order to re-charge my batteries, lick my wounds, and find the power to soldier-on through my chosen path. So my garden is at once a place I can ground myself, heal myself and reflect. And on a day like today my memories are ripe and easy to access. My earliest recollection of a garden springs from an early childhood spent in a town called Liberty in Sullivan County, upstate New York. This is where I learned about the magical outdoors, how a beautiful tree could spark a sense of wonder and the bliss that comes with spending time with the wind blowing in your ears. This is where I first witnessed the remarkable and dramatic changes that occur from season to season on the East Coast. When I was four that all changed abruptly when my father died and we moved to Brooklyn to an eight-story brick apartment house. It was a change that would shape the rest of my life.

In Brooklyn, what struck me was the disconnect between my father's absence and a sense of belonging. I longed for the familiar and the wild outdoors weighed heavily on my mind during this time of transition. I would sit at the window for hours remembering the simple luxury of green trees and warm breezes. Daydreams turned to inspiration and on to planting a small garden inside our two-bedroom apartment, where my mother, two siblings and I spent time rooting and tending carrot and potato tops and in no time flat it began to feel like home.

Through the years, my love of the outdoors intensified further. This need was fueled by spending days and weeks intent on learning to become an accomplished rock climber during my twenties, and fulfilled to a greater degree as an outdoor adventurist later in life. Luckily, these pursuits and pleasures are readily accessible here in California.

Always, always, it comes back to what a garden means to me. A garden offers structure and reliable cycles. There's the renewal that's visible with each plant and tree, each blossom or new leaf. It absolutely thrills me to pass-along my love of gardens to the students of an elementary school that I designed, where I'm helping to install a garden on the campus grounds. Their delight and engagement with the garden is boundless. The lessons learned will last their lifetimes as they see first-hand how a garden responds to their care. As one student with a shovel said to me: "I am in control and do not have to listen to the teacher".

The poet, Maxine Kumin, once wrote: "our ground time here will be brief". This grounded life I'm crafting, one day at a time, is like putting together an intricately designed puzzle. And, let me tell you the pieces are exquisite creations: my husband, Andy is my rock, my daughter, Sophia, my soul and now granddaughter, Fiona, my endless love. Being grounded with these three, all is steady. But underneath, I still tremble over what's unknown; it's like losing my father and my garden all over again. Business being business the ground is always shifting: payment received and I'm over the moon; a project goes on hold and I hold on for dear life.

Like the tree losing its place in my garden today, or the way my weight shifts up or down coinciding with the stresses and rewards of the day-to-day, it's a cycle I'm still learning to appreciate and understand. In my garden there is the promise of tomorrow, of what happens next.

Do you have a garden?