Down to Earth: Dreams from the Garden

| August/September 1995

Dreaming has almost always been pleasant for me. Nightmares have bothered me only a few times in my life, the most vivid ­occurring during one difficult period when I was separated from my daughters. I suffered from frequent sleepless nights. The little sleep I did get was filled with nightmares. My doctor prescribed mild tranquilizers.

When the pharmacist, who was also a friend and fellow gardener, looked at the prescription, he remarked, “I can fill this if you want, but you need freedom from the nightmares as well as sleep. These pills will make you sleep, but they won’t ease your dreaming. I’d rather fix you up with some valerian root capsules and a dream pillow.”

Back then, I didn't know that va­le­rian was a sedative, and I had no idea what a dream pillow was, but I knew that I didn’t like taking even mild tranquilizers, so I agreed to try his recommendations. He handed me a bottle of valerian capsules and began stuffing dried mugwort leaves and a bit of lavender into a small velvet bag.

“The valerian will help you relax,” the pharmacist explained, “and the dream pillow will calm the nightmares when sleep comes. It’s not instant. You need to use the pillow nightly for a while, but I think you will be pleased with the results, and you will wake up with a clear mind.”

Within a few nights, I could sleep through the night, and the nightmares were less frequent. I began to think more clearly and work at putting my life back together. I filed away the idea of dream pillows in the back of my mind.

Some years later, I had a second encounter with a dream pillow. I was working on a landscape project in another state and staying with close friends. Their guest room was filled with pillows of all kinds, and its window looked out upon an enormous, pristine valley—­elements that should make anyone sleep well. Indeed, after working hard all day, I was exhausted by evening and drifted off to sleep easily—only to be tormented by mean, ugly nightmares.

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