t. 97, Scott Eastham, The Walled Garden

The Walled Garden by Scott Eastham
Feilding: Rangitawa
Publishing (2018)
RRP: $38. Pb, fully illustrated, 91pp
Reviewed by Patricia Prime



The Walled Garden features a previously unpublished essay, poetry and original photography, and honours the vision of poet, philosopher and scholar, the late Dr Scott Eastham of Massey University celebrating Mount Lees Reserve near Feilding. The Walled Garden is a tribute to Mount Lees Reserve and the vision of Ormond Wilson. The title of the collection comes from the original Persian for the word paradise; ‘a walled garden’.

In the Preface Mary Eastham writes: ‘Scott saw it is a model of environmental a model of environmental ethics, where nature and culture are not opposed’ and in her essay:

         In 1999, Scott walked the garden paths most days, experiencing the shifts of summer, spring, winter and autumn. The five poems follow the seasons and are a journey with him down through the paths and trees he so loved. They are charged with the grandeur of Life; they are conversations with Ormond himself and some of the leading lights of literature and philosophy. (p 8)


In his essay, Scott Eastham himself writes that he went to the Reserve: “No Arcadia … whenever I feel like a breath of fresh air and inspiration. I skip the town entirely and head up to Ormond Wilson’s old place on nearby Mt. Lees.” (p 13) and, elsewhere he comments:

 I see what he produced here as a kind of modernist garden, very much an informal, improvised 20th Century product, with primordial echoes. It has the rambling walks of a Victorian garden, but here, instead of the Victorian’s exotic plants marking the triumphs of Her Majesty’s Empire, Wilson has preserved the best of the native bush, slowly regenerating, and added to it in a very special way. (p 15)

The poems in this volume were written over the course of a year’s weekly walks in Lees Reserve. The opening poem, ‘Some People’, tells us:

Some people never learn. It’s Sunday, mate . . .

We don’t really need that crashing racket,

that chainsaw you’re trying to ignite

to cut and slash and hack away at all

the good God and Mother Earth conspired

to let happen here today. Keruru says no,

I hear it chiding you … the chickadees

and fantails join in the chorus. (p 27)

‘Still Before Spring’ then takes us to where we see ‘Man standing, / man walking / the old double loop; / man thinking, / man stalking / the main spring / inside the spring;’ (p 29). In ‘Hope Gone to Seed’, we are witnesses to spring and new seedlings sprouting:

 Crisp air in high spring

 a swirl of seed-eye-lings,

a cluster of new plantings

–       above the low totara grove

natives going in where

gorse once gripped the hill. (p 31)

Eastham establishes his central images in these poems, to arrive at the scene of his walk and bring life to his deep human experiences.

The next section, ‘All That is Here’, features beautiful coloured photographs taken in the Reserve. Thus, we have photos of the flagstaff, trees, fungi, flowers, leaves, and a photo from Labyrinth at Mercy College, Burlingame, California, taken by Eastham in April 2013. The final photograph is of the poet, photographer himself.

The next section is a lengthy biography of Eastham by his wife, Mary. It details his life from his place of birth in Chicago, Illinois, to the place that shaped his vision, California in the 1960s and 1970s. While there, he went to Santa Barbara, where the ‘Three towering giants to whom Scott apprenticed himself were Raimon Panikkar, Ezra Pound and R. Buckminster Fuller.’ Then, in 1986, Eastham was ‘invited to give the Fellows’ Seminar at Lonergen College at Concordia University in Montreal on the work of R. Buckminster Fuller.’  Later, the family (now with two young children) ‘spent the summer in Tavertet, Catalonia in Northern Spain so that Scott could transcribe and edit Pannikar’s Gifford Lectures into book form.’ By 1993, Eastham was offered a position in English and Media Studies at Massey University.

This position brought him to the other side of the world which he explored with great relish. Living in New Zealand awakened him to the power of place like never before. The Earth power of these islands intensified his sensitivity to the Earth which became a constant theme in his teaching and writing. (p 81)

In the final section, ‘Mt Lees Reserve: A lessee’s perspective, 2002-2017’, the current reserve ‘guardians’, Graham & Jenny Teahan, write:

Mt Lees Reserve is a unique recreation reserve, a mix of native and exotic trees that offers visitors many recreation activities. It’s a place like no other where thanks to Ormond Wilson’s foresight and perseverance people can enjoy nature, relax and charge their batteries as Scott used to do. It’s a heritage that needs to be treasured and maintained so that generations can enjoy. (p 90)

Readers of The Walled Garden will surely enjoy soaring with Scott Eastham, and discovering for themselves the delights of this Reserve. Enclosed between the book’s covers are the reflections of one man’s thoughtful, artistic and beautiful meditations on life and the wonders of nature. It is a book to dip into again and again.

Patricia Prime, besides being a regular contributor to takahē, is co-editor of Kokako and assistant editor of Haibun Today. Patricia’s primary interest is Japanese short form poetry: haiku, tanka, haibun and tanka prose and she has published a book of collaborative tanka sequences called Shizuka (2015).