Here at our house, the most striking evidence of how the world has changed is in the garden. It would have been relatively empty this summer, sleepily biding its time for a more ambitious year while we packed suitcases and set out on a family road trip, with humid climes beckoning and long-rumored plans coming to fruition.
Instead, these days, I wake up and slip on Y’s old tennis shoes.
In the still-gentle, warming sunlight, I clomp as lightly as I can over the weathered brick patio to retrieve the garden hose, set it to shower mode, and watch the bright cascade of water sparkle upward and fall to the thirsty ground. The little clover-and-grass lawn and the freshly sown cosmos box receive attention first, and then I turn to the three raised beds.
The lowest bed houses a tall bamboo trellis made of eight-foot poles paired in upside-down Vs, with one long pole connecting them all at the top. A gap between the third and fourth V allows me to walk through and take the hose with me to water the upper beds, and I always feel a girlish wave of Narnian pleasure as I pass through this slim-framed doorway.
After the beds come the small patches of bare earth, where we’ve planted blue flax and chamomile, followed by the strawberry rows. Some of the tulips are looking rather scraggly and uncertain, but they get their drink as well. It’s been a rough autumn and winter for all, with ill-timed frosts, and the lilac tree has skipped her blooming phase entirely. The crabapple is a death-defying story for another day.
Sometimes I come out to find that an enthusiastic robin has left a dent in the ground while hunting. Twice we’ve been graced with a state visit from what we assume is the Emperor Supreme, whose red breast is the size of two of his normal-sized kin altogether. (I’m afraid we’ve rather sullied His Majesty’s dignity with our everyday title for him, however, as evidenced by Little Jo’s casual inquiry at the breakfast table: “Has Fat Robin been by again?”)
Today I chased a squirrel out of the garden — a little red one with no fear of humans at all. He likes to attract my attention and then scamper three or four paces ahead of me when I pursue him, ultimately scrabbling up the fence in what I believe is a sheer act of courtesy for the human who seems to work so hard to train him to stay on the perimeter of her plot. At lunch, evidently to show there were no hard feelings on his end, he sauntered across the patio again and came right up to the back door.
The girls, meanwhile, have been hard at work digging a hole in the leftmost flower bed. Y uprooted a sprawling evergreen bush out of it earlier this week, and as there are a few more days until the weather will be warm enough to direct sow more seeds, we’ve let our small archaeologists temporarily claim the site.
Two nights ago he went out and secretly buried two little canisters of “treasure” (mother-of-pearl beads and a miniature wrench) in the pit for them to find. Little Jo unearthed them yesterday. Today’s excavation yielded another pair of canisters for Lucy — five pennies and a clean wine cork — and the musings are endless.
Do you think there’s treasure under all of the evergreen bushes, Mommy? I wonder who put it there? The pennies are all from the 1960s! Maybe that’s a clue. What can we bury here for someone else to find someday?
I’ve been careful not to look at Y over their heads lest I give the game away. He’s still marveling at the fact that they don’t suspect us in the least.
In the evenings, Y brings in our new Meyer lemon tree. It’s a slender fledgling that has already lost a handful of glossy green leaves to the gusts of wind; we hope the new spiny leaf-buds will be firmer in temperament and tenacity. Yet even this challenge has had its charms: last week Y caught one of the leaves blowing about in the yard and brought it to me, fascination lighting his eyes. He tore a small corner off and waved it under my nose, and I took in the scent of fresh citrus. “I knew the fruit would smell that way, but the leaf! Isn’t that something?”
The world has changed indeed, and we are as exhausted from agonizing over decisions and witnessing hatred as our friends and neighbors are these days. Our prayers span the geographic breadth of our relationships, from the locality of our church to the international and cross-country moves our family members are making.
But we are here at home too, in body and in spirit, watching the patience of creation as it makes visible the “eternal power and divine nature” of its Maker.
The amber-and-honey setting of the sun tells us daily that the tumult of the world and the slow spinning of immense spheres are no more beyond the reach of His arm than they ever have been; the nearly imperceptible size of a German chamomile sprout testifies that, as John Meredith asserts in Rilla of Ingleside, “an infinite Power must be infinitely little as well as infinitely great.”
It is a solid place, this garden — a sound corner in which to remember that the One who made ants and sparrows heeds the affairs of the overlooked, and also that “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” The small and the mighty meet here. The paradox of the Incarnation is close.
It is, in short, not so narrow a window as one might think.
“Inanimate nature,” to borrow from C. S. Lewis’s confession, has much to say and to reveal — and to prod awake into a new flush of longing. The One whom I have known through trial and terror as a Refuge is also the Holder of mysteries far and away beyond my ken, and on days when the fractures of the world seem to yawn into chasms, it has been good — good — for me to stand under the gale-tossed branches of a green tree and be silent.
The first thunderstorm came through a fortnight or so ago. I sat at my desk and watched it, whispering thanks that Y was nearby and remembering a summer when he had to fly out on a one-way ticket to help his father. (That was the first year I noticed that the sky darkens and brings afternoon thunderstorms all throughout the month of June.)
I watched and took in the rumbling, the fresh smell, the contrast of the golds and browns on the damp wood fence, and the bright green leaf-flames, hardly visible before that day, on the twig wicks of the large tree.
A proper understanding of my smallness — of the helplessness of my labor on its own — struck me hard there, as I listened to Audrey Assad and Josh Garrels singing “Wood and Nails.” For this is the season of planning and praying and working for growth, of waiting for signs of life from our “bit of earth” and from the papers scattered about my writing surface. The actual springing up of that life, however, requires the help of a hand far mightier than mine, one that grants the common grace of good weather and even of creative inspiration. And at that moment, the sheer grace of being invited to participate in the work of Christ’s kingdom hit home.
Be pleased, my Lord, came a sudden prayer as I bowed my head. Be pleased to use this ground in me, though there is no reason for You to go to the trouble for so little return — except — now I remember — that treasure in a jar of clay shows a greater strength at work, a greater mercy, a greater glory.
In this season when the world teems with life but ever struggles to have life to the full, we look to You to cause the clouds to rise at the end of the earth and make lightning for the rain and bring forth the wind from Your storehouses… to move the mighty for the sake of the small, that we may carry out small deeds in love for the advancement of Your boundless kingdom.
For the past three days I haven’t had to do any watering. Tonight, the glazed windows tell me tomorrow will be the fourth.
But in the morning I’ll wake up and slip on Y’s old tennis shoes, and head out.
Reader friends, I’m generally terrible at knowing what updates to post and where (often it’s on Instagram), but here are some recent items that might be of interest:
- From Rivendell to Rohan: Creating Art in the Time of War
a talk for Imagination Redeemed Conference Online 2020
- The Smell of Burnt Marsh-wiggle
a piece for the Spring Issue of Cultivating 2020, on a simple discipline that has helped me navigate surreal times
- Forsaking the Second Writer
the transcript from last September’s Rocky Mountain Artists’ Retreat, about constantly putting away the black beret and the egotism of my “second writer”
- Redeemed Imagination podcast interview
an interview with Brian Brown, Lancia Smith, and my pastor — part of the Anselm Society’s “centric genius” series
- Holy Week podcast episodes with friends on One Thousand Words
it was a joy to participate in the Holy Week episodes this year for Matthew Clark’s excellent One Thousand Words podcast.