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? 

What If?

My husband was away recently for a few days of out-of-town work and instead of going to sleep at reasonable hour, I stayed up and binge read the blog of a writer I’d heard interviewed earlier that day. I read her entire blog–all five years of it–over the course of two late nights. (Because what sane woman would need a good night’s rest when everyone in the family is just a wee bit off because a Key Member of the Household is gone?)

On the bleary-eyed morning after the first night, I staggered down the hall, through the dark living room, and before my foot hit the kitchen’s wood floor, my apparently alert brain asked me a question: What if {a situation I’d been discouraged about} isn’t actually {the name I’d given it}? 

What if?

Back in college, my Children’s Lit and Creative Writing instructors said that the What if question is the basis for a compelling story. What if water from a spring hidden deep in the woods made people live forever? (Tuck Everlasting) What if an American man from the 1800s found himself in Arthur’s Camelot? (Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court) What if a mysterious wardrobe that transported children to a magical world in which an epic battle between good and evil took place among mythical creatures? (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)

Compelling stories have all the usual elements of fiction: characters, setting, theme, conflict, and plot. Our stories, the ones we live out every day, are no different. Every element is there and together they give shape to our story.

Our lives have characters (family, friends, neighbors, enemies), a setting (the unique circumstances and situations in the places where our lives are lives out), conflicts, overarching themes, and plot (what the story is really all about and who the enemy really is). Our understanding of every one of those elements is affected by that simple question: What if?

What if I took a risk?
What if I waited?
What if I stayed calm?
What if I just took a walk? or a nap? or a bath?
What if I wasn’t distracted?
What if I listened?
What if I loved?
What if I believed, hoped, and endured all things?
What if I believed, period?
What if I didn’t worry?

Who of us doesn’t want to live a good story, one that matters?

To ask the What if question isn’t all that difficult. To answer it, though, can be the starting point of a transformational journey, one that begins at the fork in the road between The Way I am (or even The Way I See It) and The Way It Could Be.

The way I am is familiar and comfortable. The Way It Could Be requires a step onto a foreign and strenuous path covered with trip-hazards and obstacles, a trail that will surely leave us bruised and maybe even a little bit broken. It is, however, the starting point of the most compelling stories.

So let’s ask. What if?

Sharing stories today with the writers at Small Wonders.





A Tree’s Tale

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My husband is a mountain goat, climbing and clinging to the unlikeliest of spots with ease. Our children take after him and as soon as they are able, they scramble after him. Those poor, sad souls who aren’t yet able to climb with their daddy stay behind with me, and I shepherd them around the base of whatever the rest are climbing.

Once, when we stopped the Hoo Doos, a large outcropping of rock formations near Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone, the mountain goat and his offspring leapt from our vehicle, sprinted toward the rocks and started climbing. I followed behind the little one as she toddled at around the base. Her pace allowed me to take in our surroundings. It was not the mountain view that caught my attention, nor the strange shapes of the Hoo Doos, nor even my little people’s daring feats: It was a tiny pine tree struggling to make a life on a rock.

08-09 pictures 431Surrounded by an insignificant amount of organic debris, there was barely enough dirt scraped together in that spot to allow for germination, let alone growth. Yet, on that rock, it had grown into a perfectly formed, though tiny, tree. That end of the park is dry. Roots, even the minuscule, must go deep to bring up water, but into what?

Into rock.

As I looked around I saw that while the landscape was mostly rock, there were pines of various sizes scattered about. Full and green, they were thriving. On a rock.

I’ve since learned that not as much is required for germination and growth as I had thought, nor are rocks as inhospitable as I believed. Rocks have cracks and water has a tendency to travel upward through them, so if a seed falls into a crack at the end of the growing season, it finds itself in a humid environment, an environment that fosters germination. Even during the fall and winter the first root will carry water from the crack in the rock to the seed. Warm spring weather will bring leaves and an explosion of growth.

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That growth will change the rock. Even that first tiny root exerts pressure on the rock, as much as 750 pounds per square inch. As the tree grows, so will the root, and the force it exerts. The force will open the crack further, changing the face of the surrounding landscape, all because of a tiny but tenacious tree.

The face of the landscape will be changed.

Isn’t a change of landscape what I look toward every day as a mom, as I seek to open the cracks, let in little moisture, shed a little light, and encourage my kiddos to grow? And isn’t a change in landscape what is needed in my own life – a landscape that is different today than it was last year or even last week? Is that not what it is to be transformed?

For a long time I thought that the story of the tree was a simple tale of tenacity, of hanging on. I’m starting to realize that the tale is not as simple as I had believed. Perhaps the story is not the story of the tree, but the changing of the rock.

What is changing the landscape of your life these days?