Bohemian, Inside and Out


This piece originally appeared as a Guest Post at Cynthia Staples’s inspiring Words & Images Blog. Check it out at!


“Oh, you see one tree, you’ve seen them all,” a woman once said to my grandmother, who had just remarked on a tree she found beautiful. Gram repeated the comment throughout my childhood as “the saddest thing I ever heard anyone say.” I think so, too, and I’m thankful for the gift of knowing why.

We took walks when I was a little girl, and even not so little, in our neighborhoods and on the beach. Often Gram would stop to look at something commonplace, such as weeds in a patch by the side of the road. Isn’t it amazing, she would say, how Nature creates so many shapes of leaves in just this one place? Eventually I reached the age of impatience with what grown-ups noticed that wasn’t rare blue beach glass or a good climbing tree. But even when I felt impatient, I knew I could see what she was talking about. I don’t know if Gram believed in God, certainly not in a kindly God, but she did deeply believe in Nature, wonderful and endlessly giving. If you looked at it that way. And I do, and I have to, despite all the other ways my eyes still need to open. Her view was one of my starting places, creatively and spiritually.

Recently a latent love for bohemian style has sprouted in me, thanks in part to author and blogger Justina Blakeney. I stay up too late turning pages of her new book and feeling out of breath. Justina defines bohemian style as the product of “a creative life and an active engagement in the search for alternative ideals of beauty…Our worldly collections are as eclectic as we are…Decorating is about feeling free, having fun, rejecting traditional notions about what goes with what…and getting a little bit wild.” [I’m quoting from her introduction to The New Bohemians: Cool & Collected Homes. UNputdownable.] Even my 1906 copy of Putnam’s Handbook of Etiquette warns New York High Society about the habits of “Bohemia”, over there in Greenwich Village, beyond “the borders of wise convention”, definitely over the edge and unacceptably wild.

Her book was in my mind recently on a walk through the Fens, one jewel in the Emerald Necklace of green spaces that loops through Boston. It has a wide area of community gardens, where dozens of people fulfill their own visions with flowers, trees, bushes, berries, vegetables, bamboo, grasses, and leafy plants. It is a wonderful place to open my grandmother’s eyes, to see the shades and shapes Nature creates in just one corner of a park, sometimes helped along by a little human artistry: a painted gate, a statue, a purple disco ball. On this walk, my looking as I was taught to look revealed Nature, to my joy, as The First and Ultimate Bohemian. Everything goes with everything, so feel free and always be a little bit wild.

I challenged myself to photograph the gardens in December, without most of the flowers to help, and still found colors and forms running madly, beautifully together, eye-catching contrasts of silhouette, especially as I lost the light, and small places full of texture and depth. Thanks, Gram.

And thanks, Cynthia!

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