“So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.”
Trystan was reciting softly as they climbed the spiral staircase, at last going to walk through the second floor of the Pleasure Dome. The guide looked at him in amazement, wondering that such a young child would know that poem. Father noticed, and smiled. “Yes, he knows the whole poem,” he said. “We have grown used to how advanced he is for his age, but he does surprise others.
The guide looked up and said “I have an older sister, and my parents said she was like that. To me, being younger, it seemed normal, but she is only eighteen, and is in her third year at the University of Toronto, studying Astronomy and physics. I guess this boy is going to be like her.”
“That’s what I want to study,” Trystan said.
They reached a landing at the top of the stairs then, and the guide said “here’s where I leave you. There are gazebos and other covered picnic areas where you can stop to rest and eat your lunch. Just please be sure you take all leftovers and garbage with you. You can deposit them in the bins at the back door. Enjoy your journey.”
Father opened the door, and they filed through. Once inside, they stopped and looked around, stunned. They were on a sandy beach, with waves washing up on shore, and a vast expanse of water spreading out and away from them. The only thing breaking the sameness was an island that seemed to be about half a mile out, and to the right, a promontory. It was hard to tell water from sky where they met in the distance. There was a rocky path going around the promontory, so they headed in that direction.
As they went, they found tidepools with algae in red, green and brown, sponges, limpets, sea urchins and sea cucumbers moving actively in them. They also saw Sandpipers, Dunlin, Plover and Killdeer flying overhead, or hopping along the shore. There was a lovely fresh breeze with a tang of salt blowing, a few fluffy white clouds in a clear blue sky, and the walk was very pleasant.
Once around the promontory, the scene changed, and they were entering a mangrove swamp. Solid ground was marked out with brightly painted wooden stakes, so father led the way. Lancelot spotted a large snake resting on a tree root, dragonflies danced in the air like small angels, and frogs sat on large plant leaves croaking. Linette saw a large turtle, and Trystan told her it was a snapping turtle. They moved on, and gradually the land became firmer, and the water less salty.
Soon they were making their way through a different kind of swamp. “Don’t forget,” mother said, “the guide said to walk where the yellow flowers are. We don’t want anyone falling into the swamp!”
Clarissant pointed and called “look! A bald eagle!” She was pointing up into a tree, and they all looked, and stopped for a moment to admire the majestic bird. “Wonderful!” mother said. “That is something to remember.” Trystan lifted his camera and snapped a picture. “I hope that turns out,” he muttered.
As they went they saw other interesting wildlife. Linette saw a beaver and father pointed out an anaconda snake. There was an Egret and a crane, and one that made Trystan laugh, a water strider skittering across a clear pond.
As they walked, the solid ground expanded until they walked around a clump of trees and were in a forest. It was dense forest at first, but soon there was less undergrowth and the going was easier. Father pointed out a big stag, with an awesome spread of antlers. “I think he’s the king of the forest!” he laughed. They all agreed as they moved on, admiring him.
They saw rabbits and chipmunks running through the low growth, and squirrels, one saucy grey fellow sat on a tree branch and scolded them as they passed. Trystan had some peanuts in his pocket, and threw one up at the squirrel. To their amazement, and laughter, the agile creature caught it in one paw, and promptly stuck it in his mouth. He then turn and scooted to the tree trunk and disappeared. Trystan scattered peanuts along as they walked. “Might as well share with them,” he said.
Soon they were among thinning trees, then clumps of trees, and found one with a tree house. There was a sign saying “Enjoy your lunch up among the branches, serenaded by the song birds” A safe stairway took them up, and they settled down to unpack and eat lunch. They stayed sitting and resting for a while, enjoying the breeze and the birdsong, and watching the small wildlife around them.
They moved on at last, and found the way blocked by a maze. The hedge was made of many Yew trees, at least nine feet tall, and it stretched to right and left as far as they could see. “Well,” father said, “here is a challenge. “Shall we venture in?”
Everyone voted to try and see if they could find the centre and from there the way out. After many twists and turns, dead ends and unexpected ponds or beds of flowers, they at last made it to the centre. Here was a gazebo surrounded by beds of lavender, rosemary and thyme, a truly beautiful sight, with an almost overpowering aroma. The exit path was clearly marked, and after pausing to admire the garden, they took the path and were soon walking out into a formal garden.
In this garden they found alcoves marked out by low hedges with copies of various famous sculptures. Most were beautiful, but two were shocking. The first was the depiction of a nude woman, old and wrinkled, with sagging breasts and flabby abdomen. The bronze plaque on the base named it “She Who Used to Be the Beautiful Heaulmiere” The other was titled “The Caryatid Who has Fallen under the Weight of Her Stone”. This was a young woman crushed under a large stone, and was a sculpted derisive comment on the Greek practise of using female forms as support columns around buildings. There was a different kind of beauty in them, and in a way, they were more beautiful than the others.
They moved on through the gardens, admiring the topiaries and rose beds, beds of chrysanthemums, marigolds backed by larkspur, a myriad of colourful plants laid out in fanciful shapes. At last they came to what appeared to be a path leading up to the door of a mansion. There they were met by a guide, who took them through. They found that they were in the back garden of the Pleasure Dome, and were led along a path to a side patio. They waited there while Jethro was notified and came to pick them up for the drive home.
They were silent for the drive, but when they were resting in the living room, awaiting the announcement of dinner, Trystan said “The Pleasure Dome is an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. And even if I visit it again, many times, this first visit will be the most vivid.”
The rest agreed. “I’m sure we will visit it again many times.” Father said, smiling. ”It is well worth the cost and effort”