“You have found me heaven on earth.”
IN SEARCH OF NEVERLAND
Gloria Rhoads Berlin
Until I looked at our woodland setting as a group of garden rooms, I was overwhelmed with the entire thought of gardening at all. Reinventing the idea of creative settings that moved from inside out, suddenly the whole idea made some sense to me. I could easily envision each scene in Technicolor, offering opportunities for meditation, for dining, for play.
I wrote those words some years ago as I worked on a project I called COLLAGE. It was shortly after my retirement in 2001 and I felt it might be time to write about the layers in the first chapter of my life. Fast forward to today, COLLAGE has been a distant memory. My writing is now completely devoted to PAYING MICHAEL FORWARD, and yet, somehow, I suddenly found myself digging through old files to find it. Brad Sundberg’s recent piece jogged my memory.
I continue to marvel at the number of things that remind me of a kindred spirit I share with Michael. When I read that Michael loved twinkle lights year round, I laughed. Our home has twinkle lights all year round. Believe me, it has been the butt of much teasing. When Michael spoke of the importance of looking children in the eye and telling them they were loved, I smiled. A philosophy I practiced for the 34 years of my career was to sit on the floor with children as we learned together. Being at the same level empowered them. So, it was little wonder, when I read about Michael’s vision and approaches to accomplish his dreams for Neverland, that he would be thinking of scenes throughout the property. Whatever Michael did, he gave it everything he had…Neverland was no exception. He had a massive dream to create a magical world for himself, his family, his friends…AND FOR THE CHILDREN OF THE WORLD. And, he invited everyone to come and rediscover the child hiding inside. He didn’t focus on the money it all would cost…he focused on the beauty and wonder of it. He believed in JOY HEALING and he knew Neverland would make that happen. And so, he created a magical, fantastical land the likes of which had never been seen before…the only currency accepted was a smile.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bujUC01sBg
“I heard the familiar blast of a train whistle from over the trees and it made me think of another train I used to hear, many miles from here. Most people know that Michael loved trains, and many know he had a railroad at Neverland Valley Ranch, but they sometimes forget that there actually were two railroads up there…one small and one large. I worked on both trains, as you may remember, installing music on them. The large train was an amazing installation project for Michael’s construction team. I still remember driving through the ranch and seeing earth movers and dump trucks carving through the hills and leveling the grade for the tracks. People always talk about the carousel and the giraffe and elephant enclosures, but the train was a huge labor of love. There were sounds at Neverland that are seared in my head forever. When you arrived at Neverland, you would hear music and birds chirping (I’ve written about the birds before), but it would only be a short time before you would hear the train whistle, almost deafening if it was next to you. Early in the morning you could sometimes hear the elephants trumpet and Kimba the lion letting out a roar reminding the handlers that he was hungry…again. The chimps were amazingly (and annoyingly) loud with their shrieks and yells, but they were always ready to entertain anyone who stopped by for a few minutes. The ranch always sounded different depending on what was going on that day. If Michael wasn’t there, and no guests were scheduled, the gardeners would be out in force with mowers, leaf blowers, tractors, weed eaters, etc. I seem to remember there were nearly 80 gardeners on staff during the busiest times at Neverland, and they could make some noise! The funny thing was that the music (The Neverland Collection) played everyday whether Michael was there or not. The ranch always had a different feel at night. We had different music to be played after sunset, and even the sound effects we designed in the trees and from hidden speakers changed at night. Many times I would leave the ranch late at night, and if Michael had guests in the amusement park, I would stop my car outside the gate (roughly 2 miles from the Park) and I could hear my subwoofers pumping out music through the dark, whether Michael was there or not. Many people have asked me if I would ever consider going back to Neverland. On the one hand, I would love to see it again, but on the other hand, I’m not sure. Neverland was more than visuals. It was twinkle lights in the trees and the smell of steam and smoke from the train and freshly cut grass. But to me, it was also so many sounds. To see the train tracks without hearing the train, or to walk through the park without hearing the hydraulics of the rides and thumping of the speakers…I don’t know. Michael knew the power of music, and how it completes a scene. Neverland was, in a sense, a movie with a lot of scenes. And each scene had a soundtrack. I’m pretty proud to have been a part of the sounds of Neverland, and I’m thankful that its soundtrack still plays clearly in my memory. Pay attention to the sounds around you. Listen to them, remember them, enjoy them, and someday they will be a mini time machine. Trust me, I know. Brad Sundberg
In my imagination, I make trips to Neverland. In my mind, I see the scenes Michael created and I hear the music. I imagine the legions of Fans who were invited to spend afternoons and evenings, playing and eating, seeing and hearing. Neverland was a place to be entertained, a place of hospitality and generosity, a place to escape into a magical world and forget the stresses of life, a place for those who had little time left to find hope, a place to learn, a place to feel safe…and, most of all, a place to feel love. A Fan wrote, “Neverland is a place where there was peace and kindness, where every candy imaginable was available in dispensers that don’t take money, where a movie theatre with popcorn and soda pop sat excitingly empty, the projectionist waiting to hear your wishes, a place where chimps dressed in sailor suits.” When asked where they had been taken, Seth Riggs told visitors, “This is Neverland. Peter Pan lives here.”
Spring has come and I feel an invitation to spend my days in nature, creating tiny scenes of wonder in my garden. I feel God’s hand on my shoulder, and, I feel the warmth of Michael’s light.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raw96oUPGLk
Wind caresses me softly
Playfully chasing the leaves around my feet
The sun wraps her wings around me
Smilingly embracing me with her warmth
Gets a new definition
Of your love.
When I close my eyes
And take a deep breath
Joyful laughter floats through the air
And disappears between the mountains
Smiling eyes wave at me
I don’t know you
But I know what I feel
My soul stretches
Of pretending and hiding
It rejoices in myself.
This is home!
Miriam Lohr Germany
THANK YOU, MICHAEL