On Clearing and Cultivating

FullSizeRenderEight years ago, two months after we landed in a new place, spring unfolded like the twelve days of Christmas, each morning bestowing blossoms of a new color.

Crocus peeked over the winter’s covering of melting snow. Creeping phlox draped over the rock wall and tidy circles of hosta poked through the mat of the previous autumn’s fallen leaves. A small band of hyacinth and tulips held their blooms aloft near the cluster of tiny grape hyacinth massed at the base of a tree, a tree that revealed itself to be a redbud. Daffodils danced betwixt them all and even at the edge of the woods that is our backyard.

We’d received a gift, a garden–a mature garden–along with the house, one that someone else had labored to plan and maintain. Even though I don’t have the gardening gene that many members of my family carry, I recognized it as a gift because long ago Martha Steward told me so. Fifteen years, she’d told her TV audience, is how long it takes for a garden to mature, to get to that place the gardener had envisioned at planting time.

I love the idea of a garden. I planted an herb garden outside our first apartment. I’ve planted flowers at every home where we’ve lived. Once, I even planted a vegetable garden. But never have we stayed in one place long enough for our gardens to grow up.

The weeds sprang up that first spring with the same vigor as the flowers so, gardening gene or no, I went out to pull them. One side of the garden, the side across from the living room window, had few intruders, making it easy to work my way along the long stretch of green. But as I got further away from the window, the weeds grew thick and the hosta’s tidy circles gave way to a tangled jungle.

While I may love the idea of a garden, the years have proven that I don’t like the practice of gardening– the watering and weeding, the deadheading, the continual care. And while the gardens in my mind come straight from the pages of Martha Stewart Living, Victoria, and Midwest Living,  the actual work of my hands resemble those not at all. My herb garden lacked the magnificence of the ones in the magazines. My flower beds look neither vibrant nor lush. And my vegetable garden? Great with child when I planted and comforting an inconsolable infant during harvest, I’ve not taken that road again.

When a friend admitted she had “romantic notions” about gardening, she gave me words to understand the rough break between the lush gardens in my head and the ones that languished in my yard.

I waded further into the garden, past my romantic notions, pulling up plants of suspect etiology until I reached the farthest and most neglected end. There, in the shelter of the unfurling hosta, mass plantings of delicate, low-growing bluebell and lily of the valley broke the wall of green. Here were jewels I hadn’t set out to discover and without the practice, the work, of gardening, I’d never have cleared away the weeds that obscured them from view. I’d never have known they were there at all.

Spring in a new place, whether that place is a locale or a perspective, is like that, revealing what’s buried beneath winter’s snow, under the soil, behind the weeds. It challenges the romantic notions which stand in the way of tending, of progress, of discovery. It invites us out, beckons us to clear away the weeds and cultivate the land, wherever–or whatever–that land might be.

FullSizeRenderAnd you? Might you find little gems tucked within an untended wall of green in your life? 

Celebrating Spring

Mossy Tree at LeHardy Rapids

Spring is well under way and I’m celebrating. Some of these celebrations are borne from intention while others occur as naturally as breath. They are, in random order:


Green grass and leaves, flowering trees and shrubs are here. They’ve created a feast for my earth-tone weary eyes and I am grateful.


After a long too-busy season, life for our family slowed enough for us to take a deep breath. That same season, known at our house as robotics, may come again. We’re trying to decide whether or not to say “yes” to that and, if so, how we’ll approach it so that we’ll live closer to thrive than survive.


Yes, we’re trying to celebrate celebrating at our house–more joy in simple pleasures. I’m trying to reestablish the habit of using the good stuff because it’s not that much extra effort and they, my family and the others who come to our house, are worth it.

One easy celebration: Saturday morning brunch. Gingerbread for my son. Paper straws, cloth napkins, and proper tea cups for my daughters.


I’m not celebrating the fact that my oldest is leaving us; I’ve ticked off (read mourned) lots of lasts since he was tiny. Right now I am celebrating that fact that he’s healthy and strong and ready to move on to the next phase of his life.

Natural Music

I heard my first bird of the season as I walked toward church one Sunday morning and the song lifted a ten pound burden from my soul. Weeks later, the frogs joined in. The warmer the day, the louder they chirp. Natural music gives me hope.

The Table

It’s the season for meats and veggies grilled on the deck. Indoors, this recipe for Carne Asada Nachos in the crock pot has become a versatile staple for our springtime table. Beyond nachos it’s perfect for burrito bowls or wrapped up in a tortilla. A fun morning celebration: a Marmalade Roll, straight from Narnia, or at least from The Unofficial Narnia Cookbook.

And you? What are you celebrating this spring?For everything there is a season

For This Spring

Because we like snow, we watched it swirl through the branches of the tree that sits between our house and the pond. My daughter spotted a robin – our first of the year – perched on a branch, proof that winter will yield to spring. It will release its hold on the land and the newness of spring will abound. Trees will bud, bees will fly and long dormant grass will green, each silently proclaiming victorious survival over winter’s onslaught. And though I eagerly anticipate winter for its snow, I am ready for something new. I want to wake to the song of birds and sleep to the chirp of frogs.

The frogs and the birds are at our doorstep. On two sides the woods encroach almost to our very walls. Another side we have tamed somewhat since staking our claim here. In front, though, we have an actual yard, and an established, though neglected, garden which reflects a different aesthetic, perhaps created to please a different member of the original household. Overgrown and wanting a true gardener’s hand, it is filled with ornamental trees, perennials, and bulbs. First will come the flowering bulbs; the daffodils, the hyacinth, a couple of sad and lonely tulips, and a lovely mass of grape hyacinth; then the redbud; and finally the lilac, at least those which have not fallen in our war against poison ivy and her kin.

The earliest flowers, the daffodil, the hyacinth, and the tulip, all require winter’s cold. They must face winter’s chill to produce their contribution to the life of spring. It is the difficulty of winter that calls out their beauty.

My approach to winter is sadly dilettantish: my main interest is the snow. All the rest I could do without. Even the early darkness that allows the glow of the candle to be enjoyed quickly loses its luster when the landscape is brown.

Women, weary from the demands of the day and the minutia of life, often tell one another that this is a season, meaning eventually this will pass and you will get through it. Probably it will, both pass and be survived. Most circumstances do.

I’ve heard it. I’ve said it. I believe it.

IMG_0118I am starting to realize, though, that I haven’t fully grasped it. What I have never considered is that just as the earliest flowers in my garden require the cold of winter, perhaps the coldest part of the season is necessary to bring forth something lovely, worthy, and filled with life. My sweet sister-in-law once used the word “intensity” to describe a season that I was passing through. Winter’s cold is intense, yet in the design of things, it brings forth the beautiful, the worthwhile, and the vibrant.

Whether of the land, the life or the heart, winter will do its work and give way to spring. Spring is on its way.

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:18 – 19