Never underestimate the power of a voice. That's the biggest lesson I carried away from a handful of years as a late-night radio announcer. You'd "pot down" the mic, and right away the phone would light up. People you'd never met would call in and begin one-sided conversations, telling you startlingly personal details about their lives—tales of heartache old and new, confessions of character flaws, catalogues of romantic conquests and failures (and once a yarn about a haunted house*). When I mentioned the calls to a friend, she said, "Can you wonder at it? You're a presence in their home, a voice in their living room, speaking to them. Radio is a lot more immediate than TV, where the news announcers are contained in a box. Just a voice by itself is a lot more intimate."
Just a voice by itself. I found myself thinking about that this week as I was looking at the little-leaf garden sage, Salvia officinalis 'Minimus'. Like most of my kitchen herbs, this one is growing in a container, where it can be moved as the season changes either to chase or to avoid the sun. Right now it's standing more or less alone against the big urn, where its sueded leaves show beautifully. Their gentle green has been an oasis of cool through the last days of the hottest August on record.
The sage took a while this year to recover from last winter's damage. It hasn't had blooms or pizzazz to offer, just the texture and color of its leaves, as distinctive as the timbre of a voice. It's like listening to someone singing a capella—a lullaby, perhaps, or a Christmas carol, maybe a song to make a task go faster. Or perhaps a child soprano in a chapel with magnificent stained glass windows and soaring rafters, where despite the grandeur of the surroundings, those clear, simple tones reach out and draw you into them. Their immediacy, the intimacy of the sound, is hard to account for. It's just a voice, by itself. I have not yet reached the point of telling the salvia startlingly personal details of my life, but those days may not be far distant.
In a small garden you'd think that everything would be intimate, that the whole experience would touch you directly. It doesn't, though. The garden is still basically a "public" space writ small—a personal space, yes, maybe an idiosyncratic one, with all its elements hand chosen by the gardener, but it's still designed with broader principles in mind. Jill at Landscape Lover writes about theatricality in large gardens, and to a much lesser extent a smaller garden tries to be theatrical as well. It's crafted to look a certain way, to create a certain type of experience.
Small doesn't equal intimate. Intimacy needs something that speaks directly to you, that reaches you with a kind of immediacy and draws you gently in.
It needs something like a voice—a voice, by itself.
* Apparently—and why should I doubt my source?—the University of Colorado's parapsychology team drinks a lot of beer.**
** Did you know that the University of Colorado had a parapsychology team? Neither did I.