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Text by: Kari Cadenhead

Many times in our lives, words are left unsaid. Some of us have this habit more than others, but most of us would hate to admit how often we've let opportunities pass us by before we realized it was too late. I make an honest effort not to let time slip by without saying what needs to be said. "I love you" and "I miss you" are phrases at the top of my list— I pretty much utter them daily. Sometimes though, I make mistakes, as I've done with my neighbor across the road. She is a lovely, old German woman with a breathtaking garden that I have watched from my kitchen window for the six years I have lived in this small German town. She speaks no English, and because my German is very limited, I literally don't have the words I would normally use to tell her what I feel needs to be most urgently said—that I let too much time go by. And now I feel as if I should play catch-up. The only way I know how at this point would be to write her a letter expressing my heartfelt regret. And although I am not sure she will ever read this, it would make me feel better to share it with you:
Dear Gertrun,

The last six years have been a pleasure living so near to you. I can see your gardens through my living room, kitchen, and son's bedroom windows and have spent countless hours gazing at your flowers and trees. Pink gladiolas, golden sunflowers, purple allium, bright orange poppies and the biggest, whitest peonies I have ever seen adorn the picture window of my living room, thanks to you.

It cheers me up each morning to hear your rooster crow and to see the bright green leaves of baby maple trees and sumac in the early sun, while my son delights in watching your little, gray cat hunt for her breakfast. I've spent many busy days dreaming of relaxing in the rainbow hammock hanging between your two oldest trees. And in this house, we follow the change of seasons according to the ivy covering most of your ancient barn. The leaves shine with life in the summer and change to the most breathtaking shade of crimson in the fall. The vines lie dormant in the winter and sprout back, sure as always, in the early days of spring, spreading their baby leaves even farther across the old, stone walls.

I've enjoyed watching your family visits in the summer, sometimes with a new baby and always with little ones playing, with all the freedom children deserve, amongst nature. Each month, your husband would work steadily in his bright blue coveralls to cut the grass with his scythe, and he even inspired my husband to buy and use one several years ago.

In the fall, I've watched as your tomatoes turn red and you harvest your vegetables, surely putting them away for the winter to come. Your plums turn dark purple, your apples change from green to red, and sometimes pears fall outside your mossy wooden fence into the road below.

As winter comes and your sumac trees lose their last, bright red leaves in the morning fog, your garden is a comforting sight, reminding me that as snow covers the ground and birds go into hiding, it won't last forever. Green leaves will grow again, flowers will blossom, and tomatoes will ripen. The cold dreary winter won't stay - your land promises it.

As I watch the ivy closely for the first peek of green buds, it's hard to ignore the clear, white beauty that covers the ground and trees. Of course when the snow melts and I see your first chicks pecking at the damp grass, the thought that it's all beginning again is sheer delight.

I've learned so much watching you these past six years. You remind me to hang my clothing up to dry, even with the threat of rain. I've seen you tenderly grow vegetable plants in a sun box before the snow has even melted. I've learned to always be waiting with open arms for visitors. Watching you pour coffee and serve cake in your garden has filled my heart with joy, as has watching you show guests around, eagerly pointing out each plant and flower like a proud mother.

Each year I have waited for the nerve to well up inside of me enough to walk to your house and introduce myself. I've wanted to tell you every time I see something beautiful how amazed I am that you can cultivate such beauty so effortlessly. But somehow I've let fear stand in the way for far too long.

This year as I watched you hang your clothing on the line, I saw there were only blouses and skirts, no worn jeans, no faded flannel shirts. I noted sadly that your husband had passed, and I realized quite clearly that too much time had also passed and an opportunity was almost gone.

When I finally mustered the courage and walked over with a gift of cupcakes, I was overwhelmed with relief and comfort. You welcomed me just as you had so many other visitors before me; there had been no reason to be scared of whatever it was I had been for so many years. Communication was slow but it flowed, and really, no talking was necessary. We laughed about your untimely rooster, and I told you about your cat sitting in my living room window, taunting my dogs from behind the safety of the glass.

As I looked around, I lost my breath when I realized the garden I had seen from my house was only about half of your amazing land, all covered in herbs, pottery, flowers and worn antiques. I shared my condolences for your husband the best I could, and you nodded knowingly. And when you sent me home with fresh blue and brown eggs and handmade dishes for my little son, I knew all too well that I had missed out on something very special in not getting to know you sooner. I immediately had regrets knowing that these years could have been filled with visits such as the one that had just filled my soul to the brim within only twenty minutes.

These days as you ride your bicycle by on the way to gather flowers from the fields, we wave and smile to each other. I bring my son to feed your chickens whatever weeds you've picked from your gardens, and you gift me handfuls of fresh mint leaves for tea. You are always so kind and generous, and I am more thankful than ever to be living in such a welcoming place, next door to such an inspiring woman. I look forward to spending the last few months we have here getting to know you even more fully, and this time not from afar.

Much love and many, many thanks,

Your new and dear friend,


I am still (and I imagine always will be) saddened that it took me so long to break free of my shyness and fear. But instead of dwelling in regret, I will learn to put myself out there in order to experience all that the people around me have to offer. I can think of no better way to spend the rest of my life.