How I'm Kind of Like Roy Neary in 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind"

Roy Neary Close Encounters
Roy Neary and his mysterious mashed potato creation.

Do you remember that classic scene in Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in which the everyman lead character, Roy Neary  (played pitch-perfectly by a very young Richard Dreyfus ) baffles his wife and young children at the dinner table by inexplicably shaping his serving of mashed potatoes into the shape of what looks like some kind of desert mesa? In the scene, Roy himself is pretty baffled by why he feels so compelled to shape and pat his plate full of fluffy spuds into this mysterious thing; at this point in the movie’s storyline, Roy Neary still has no clue why his psyche is suddenly messaging him to create something he’s never seen before. After the potato mesa is complete, and as his worried family stares at him, Roy Neary offers the only explanation he has at that point for why he’s drawn to making the mesa shape, saying simply, “This means something. This is important.”

Well, in recent months, I’ve felt a bit like Roy Neary myself – feeling energetically inspired to create something without a clear idea of where it would end up, but with a definite sense of there being some important reason I should be doing it.

It started when I felt compelled to rip out the lawn in half of our front yard and turn the space into more garden  – not just a garden bed, but a real little garden that would majorly expand on the first  garden patch that friends and family  already created for me. Since back in mid-July when I realized – not decided but realized – that this was what I wanted/needed to create, I’ve been working feverishly on my lawn-to-garden project, shaping it somewhat compulsively into I know not what.

I’ve dug out grass, hauled rocks, researched and chosen plants, moved plants around, stood back and squinted, added more plants plus some garden flair, and, and, and

I did not start with a real plan in my head or on paper for exactly how I want the garden to look and feel when it’s complete (although no garden is  actually ever complete).  Instead, every time I get out there  in the new garden space and work, I just know what is supposed to go where, and what’s still missing. And I can’t explain what has guided what I’m doing out there any better than Roy Neary could. In other words, throughout last summer and now as we are moving into deep autumn, the creation of this space has been my very own plate full of mashed potatoes.

This is what it looked like when I started, back in Mid-July.




And this is what the same space looks like now, in mid-October.


Perhaps no part of the process has unfolded for me in a more Roy Neary-like way than my growing awareness that my garden is supposed to have some defined Asian elements included. When this thought first came to me, I was flat out bewildered by it. I have never in my life – ever, at all – been particularly attracted to Asian design – indoors or out. It’s not that I dislike Asian-inspired spaces, it’s just that they’ve never really spoken to me like, say, a great spread in the late, great Cottage Living magazine.  I  mean, live in a gingerbread-ey 1910 Queen Anne Victorian, for goodness’ sake!  Clearly, I’m not naturally drawn to a clean, minimalist  aesthetic!

I do have one Asian element in my garden already – a dwarf, red Japanese Maple that was planted the week that my son Henry died two years ago. I love my little Japanese Maple, and I’ve spent a good deal of time reading up on how to care for it and prune it properly so it grows into the right shape as it matures. But really, that’s been the extent of the Asian influence around our home and garden until lately, when like Roy Neary, I have been become increasingly unable to push away the urge to add at least a bit of Asian-inspired gardenality to my space full of  American native wildflowers and  English cottage garden flowers.

Even though I didn’t understand where the urge was coming from, it  felt like a positive, happy inspiration, so I decided to roll with it.  Let me say right up front that in NO WAY am I claiming that my new Asian-inspired garden flair is authentic.  Real Japanese and Chinese and Korean garden design is very specific and gorgeous and important. My own dabbling with these garden design traditions is none of those things.  But I am finding my new additions to be calming, peaceful and lovely in just the way I need them to be.



  • Japanese Anemones 1 of 6
    Japanese Anemones
    I've fallen hard for these delicate flowers,which are actually native to China rather than Japan, even though Japan ended up getting naming credit.
  • Beginner Bonsai! 2 of 6
    Beginner Bonsai!
    Having never attempted to create or grow a bonsai tree in my life, I am now working on several little beginner bonsai projects out in my garden. Bonsai is a very ancient and well-defined garden art, and in no way am I claiming that what I am doing is "right." However, I am enjoying learning about bonsai and playing around with my little trees. It's very relaxing. This one is a little Chinese Juniper before I wired it, but after I'd trimmed it a little.
  • Bonsai Progress 3 of 6
    Bonsai Progress
    Here's the same little Chinese Juniiper trimmed a bit more and now wired into the shape I am trying to create. I am sure that those of you who are actual bonsai hobbyists are grimacing at my first attempt at wiring a tree, but hey, everybody starts somewhere, right?
  • Dwarf Hinoki False Cypress 4 of 6
    Dwarf Hinoki False Cypress
    This is a little dwarf hinoki false cypress that I've added in one corner of the garden. I love it and find myself sitting next to it all the time just chilling out.
  • And yet another attempt at bonsai… 5 of 6
    And yet another attempt at bonsai...
    This is my other attempt at creating a bonsai tree. It's a wee mugo pine. I'll let ya know how it goes...
  • And my tree again 6 of 6
    And my tree again
    Here'the dwarf hinoki all pruned and with my little zen monkey thinker in place at the foot of it. I love this spot in my garden now.

Ultimately, of course, Roy Neary learned that his compulsive inspiration to create mesa shapes out of potatoes and mud was, in fact, very, very important, just as he’d predicted.


First human-alien contact in "Close Encounters"


I can’t claim that my own inspiration  of late will ultimately lead to anything of  important, Roy Neary-like proportions.  It just makes me feel happy.

However, I did recently discover that a small alien had apparently crash-landed in our garden during the night.



Coincidence? You decide…





Article Posted 4 years Ago
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