The Eye

Summertime Story #5

If you don’t know what the Eye is, chances are you are not a child, or at least not one right now. But perhaps you could become one yet again with the right conditions. With the right kind of Eye.

The Eye is the name of a favorite thicket at Boxerwood, just up from the run-off pond and down from the meadow. From the outside, it looks like another one of those mysterious Boxerwood brambly places: dark, tangly, inscrutable. But observing the Eye from the outside is not how to see it. The Eye is best apprehended from above, or from within.

Who, you ask, could ever see the Eye from above? Before drones, the answer was straightforward: great blue herons, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, and fighter jet pilots throttling training sorties from NAS Oceana.

The Eye started as a joke, a bit of classic Boxerwood whimsy. Its creator: the garden’s visionary (and occasional aviator), Dr. Robert Munger. Its purpose: not 100% sure, but it did involve those fighter jets. Or VMI grads buzzing Lexington. Or something like that.  In any case, the Eye exists today as the Rockbridge County version of the Nazsca Lines, a message of and from little Earth to the great beyond.

The Eye would be the biggest eye on the planet if it were a living eye, maybe even as big as a whole whale. Although the horticultural design has devolved with time, you can still grasp the intent. A grove of strategically planted junipers created the overall shape and originally, the eyelashes. White dogwoods inside the junipers formed the eyeball. And inside that blooming sclera? A single pink-petal dogwood—the iris!– long gone. All this (save the iris) you can plainly see in an aerial photo framed in the Lodge.

Over the decades, hundreds and hundreds of children have played in Boxerwood’s Eye.  The reasons are obvious. To enter you must duck and crawl. You must hook you way over and under the jumble of junipers. Your bare hands and feet and legs and knees must touch forgotten things: knotty trunks and scratchy boughs; slick, peeling braches; rotting logs; the cool, cedar-damp earth.  Hidden in the undergrove, you climb, swing, defend your lair, build treetop collectives, gather up lost souls. You and your friends play land pirates, build base camps, swap hostages, set up families, and yes–I really did overhear this once—manage the pressures of getting your MBA.

The Eye was built for pilots and red-tails, but it belongs to children.  Even if they don’t all know the story of how it came to be, the kids know something better. They know that the unseeing Eye sees. Through tangles and roots and moss and peeling bark it sees and receives them. It welcomes their wildness and wonder as they play and grow. You can see this Eye too. And be seen. All you need to do is step forward, and bow low.