And I Shall Have Some Peace There
- Margaret Roach
- Grand Central Publishing
- 260 pp.
- Reviewed by Alice Miller
- April 8, 2011
From the glitz of Saks Fifth Avenue to the hardscrabble landscape of upstate New York, Margaret Roach’s memoir chronicles her unusual journey and transformation.
Reviewed by Alice G. Miller
By many standards Margaret Roach had made it to the top of her profession when she did what most people only dream of – she dropped everything and leapt into a new life.
At that time, Roach, a former columnist at the New York Times and fashion editor at Newsweek, was Editorial Director of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. However, even with 600 colleagues, at least 150 who worked directly for her, she often felt isolated and lonely.
When job stresses piled up, Roach might walk over to Saks Fifth Avenue, her “50th Street Office,” for retail therapy. There, bolstered by a hefty paycheck, she acquired an array of elegant clothing, including a closetful of leather jackets. With wry humor, Roach dubbed the resulting stress reduction her “retail path to enlightenment.”
Ultimately, Roach concluded that the real path to enlightenment began weekends, when she drove 120 miles to Copake Falls in upstate New York and the white shoebox of a house on two steep, rocky acres of semi-wilderness that she fell in love with 20 years earlier. It became apparent that there – and not the fast-pace corporate world – was the part of her life that fed her. After 32 years in that corporate world, she found herself increasingly questioning, “Who am I if not email@example.com?”
And I Shall Have Some Peace There is a memoir of that transition. The author moves from self-deprecating humor to endearing self-disclosure as she shares a personal journey that melds her professional life with an inward life connected more deeply with nature. Hardly an amateur to the world of gardening and nature, Roach is the author of A Way to Garden and co-author of The Natural Habitat Garden as well as the popular gardening blog “A Way to Garden.” But Roach’s book is not your usual gardening book. “I moved to the woods to get away from noise, from all the other voices but my own, to hunker down and listen, really listen,” says the author, as she recounts her experiences turning a semi-jungle into a garden.
While struggling with a hardscrabble landscape, weathering electrical storms, encountering a five-foot rattlesnake, and braving her first long, frozen winter, Roach had many occasions to ask herself, “Have I made the right choice?” This question re-surfaced with experiences like the appearance of the last corporate paycheck. That paycheck was a reminder that this was no longer the era of shopping sprees and closetfuls of Saks Fifth Avenue leather jackets.
The era that emerges is a delightful, contemporary Walden spent communing with nature. But, unlike Thoreau, who mostly contemplated the beauty of nature, Roach is the architect of re-arranging her own corner of that nature. Chopping wood and clearing multiple piles of brush is not something one does in a Saks leather jacket. But Roach stoically soldiered on, now in her country clothes, amassing huge piles of underbrush, replacing it with lush plantings and creating her own place of beauty.
“Now I am living on plant time,” she muses, “mowing, raking, dividing and pruning.” It is, she says, a wild, “humble way to pass one’s days on earth.” Roach shares her newly found realization that despite all her professional coping abilities and strategies, she also has “the spirit of a lone wolf, a heron and an eagle.” In spite of this she has not morphed into some reclusive guru in size 2 bib overalls. Her Walden comes complete with tweets, twitters and blogs. Her antique Swedish dining table has become the corporate headquarters of Margaret Roach, Inc.; gardener, writer, consultant and blogger. In her own words, Roach proudly proclaims: “‘She of Nobody Else’s Bidding’ – that’s who I am now.”
As the book concludes, Roach answers her earlier question, “Have I made the right choice?” The answer seems evident. She has fulfilled her longing to enter the stillness of nature and to free her own creativity. You hear her affirmation of choice in her words as she moves from her labors to a quiet state of mindfulness watching the birds and the pond frogs.
“These days,” she reflects, “newness does not derive from drama around the ‘other,’ but from the conversation with self. From merely sitting quietly and bearing witness.” Clearly, Margaret Roach has found her peace there.
Alice G. Miller, LCSW-C, PhD, is a psychotherapist in Potomac, MD. She is the author of To Everything There is a Season and A Thyme for Peace.