Archive for 2006

The Other Grace

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

Three weeks ago today I was on a ladder in the backyard doing yet another of those absolutely imperative tasks that must be completed before vacation: spraying the peach trees. I had already had that conversation with myself about how stupid it was to get up on a rickety ladder with a heavy, awkward sprayer when you’re home alone and the cell phone is far away on the kitchen counter…am I effectively setting the scene for disaster? But it had to be done, remember. And I was being careful. That is, until I jumped down the last few rungs and landed with my right foot in a hole. I both heard and felt it snap, and though the pain was already making me ill, I managed to get back to the house (calling out loud for God’s help!) and wrench off my Wellington boot at the kitchen door. I called my husband in hysterics who promptly abandoned a lunch meeting to come to my rescue and race me off to the emergency room. Four hours later it was confirmed that my ankle wasn’t broken, only severely sprained. My relief was short-lived, however, as the nurse cheerfully assured me that a bad sprain can hurt like a fracture—and take longer to heal.

But I really didn’t care at that point. I just wanted to be at home where my sweet mother was already waiting with our dinner for that night and the tea kettle on the boil. The memory of the next day is rather blurred with pain medication, but somehow or other my husband single-handedly got us packed and ready to go to the beach for a week. (God bless him!) Thus commenced an idyllic (albeit unusual) vacation by the sea, with nothing to do but read and write in my journal and keep my foot up. It was easy to be cheerful (most of the time) with my extended family waiting on me hand and foot and precious nieces and nephews frolicking about and the absolute absence of responsibility. It was easy to laugh when we went to a dinner dance on a neighboring island one night and all I could do was sway in my husband’s arms balancing precariously on one strappy silver sandal. Or when he took me out on the beach in my sister-in-law’s baby stroller. (One woman who passed our ambling procession remarked, “That’s the third one I’ve seen today!” I wheeled around with a look of incredulity and said to Philip, “Surely she means casts!” For my leg was encased in fiberglass. “I’m positive that she’s never seen anything like this!”)

But all vacations must come to an end, and last Monday found me propped up on the sofa at home with a mountain of laundry tormenting my mind and a houseful of disgruntled pets and my sweet husband kissing me goodbye, saying, “Now, honey, I’ll be back before you know it—don’t move, okay? Just rest…” He’s got to be kidding. I’m going to go mad…

I have been so incredibly blessed—my mother has been here almost every day; dear friends have brought me meals and flowers; kind phone calls have urged me to ‘enjoy’ my forced retirement. Philip has outdone even his own dear, wonderful self in his patience and forbearance. He has gone smiling on all manner or ridiculous household errands, he’s deadheaded my flowers and watered my plants and taken full charge of our menagerie. He even finished spraying those dumb trees. He’s been a saint. And I’ve been…something else.

In everything we go through there’s an opportunity to learn something about ourselves. Some hidden strength or gifting; some deep reservoir of faith; some embarrassing deficiency. I’ve discovered what a brat I am. I don’t like being helpless. I don’t like having to ask someone for every little thing. I don’t like having my plans upset, even temporarily. I like being capable and efficient and getting things done. I love rest and refreshment, too—but I want them on my terms. And so, in this light and momentary affliction, I’ve been an impatient patient.

One of the graces of our Christian life is serving other people. Being the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need. Bearing a cup of cold water in His name, be it literal or figurative. There have been needs in the lives of those around me that I’ve felt both a compunction and a capacity to meet. God’s grace is always abundant in such cases, and I’ve often found myself as refreshed as (if not more than!) the recipient—simply because the power at work in such moments of grace is above and beyond both of us. It is God that works in us, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.

But there is another grace; a grace I’m largely unacquainted with in my bustling, capable little life. It’s the grace of being served; of being on the receiving end of this divine courtesy. Of allowing God to meet my needs through those whom He stirs into action; giving Him the chance to work in the lives of others the way He’s worked in mine when He has given me a task of service in the Body. Lying passive as those who love me assume my cherished responsibilities. I had absolutely no idea how much grace it would require to sit here on the sofa and read for days on end!

I believe that these two graces are intended to offset one another with great beauty in God’s ideal. That the giving and the receiving alike are to be done with humble hearts and graceful accord, like the harmony between wind and sail, or the action of a breeze upon the willing strings of an Aeolian harp.

Sheldon Vanauken, in his gorgeous masterpiece, A Severe Mercy, characterized true kindness as being willing to ask and receive as well as perceive and do.

“We, in fact, defined courtesy as ‘a cup of water in the night’. And we considered it a very great courtesy to ask for the cup as well as to fetch it.”

Being weakened—even by something as transient and annoying as a sprained ankle—can remind us as few things can how utterly needy we are before God and how much we depend upon His help for our very existence. I’m having to ask Him many times each day to help me behave like a Christian—like Christ—as I’m stuck here brooding over all the things I want to do but can’t. I’ve had to ask His forgiveness—and Philip’s—more times in the last three weeks than probably the last three months before. But, like Christ, Philip loves me and forgives me, and he brings me that cup of tea I just griped over. And Christ Himself, the very being of love and courtesy and mercy wipes the slate clean and helps me start again.

If you think of it, pray for me in the next couple of weeks, that I’d let God have His way in this little trial of mine. And while you’re at it, you might want to pray for Philip, too.

Summer Holidays

Thursday, June 8th, 2006

We’ve just returned from an idyllic family vacation on St. Simons Island–one of Georgia’s famed ‘Golden Isles’–which I managed to enjoy immensely despite the fact that my right foot is encased in a cast and I can only hobble about on crutches at present! 😉 (A long story, involving a ladder and a peach tree and a sprayer…two days before we left on our trip…) We even went to a dinner dance one night on neighboring Jekyll Island, but my husband said that ‘dancing’ with me was like dancing with a coatrack!

It was such a lovely respite, sitting by the pool with my books and my journal that I hated that the week had to come to a close. Watching my sister-in-law’s beautiful children play and enjoy the complete leisure of a seemingly endless summer ahead made me a bit nostalgic for that sense of vacation that I really haven’t experienced since high school. I still save so many projects for the summer months, my mind trained on the idea that it’s holiday time. But it’s only a slower time if we make it so. Vacation–even a vacation mentality–won’t thrust itself through the rigid parameters of the ‘normal’. Something has to give a little, there needs to be a change, even a re-arranging. My grandmother always had a winter arrangement and a summer arrangement of her furniture, and, somehow, that represents a lot to me now as I’m considering what little adjustments I can make to give these dear, fleeting summer months a more laid-back quality.

Now, in my ‘forced retirement’, I’m having to relax a bit and realize that the stars won’t stop in their courses if I can’t make up my bed or do the dishes for a while. But even when I’m mobile again (and how grateful I will be for two good legs!!) I want to have a quiet summer. I want to remember that I have a hammock strung between two trees in the back yard and that porch swings are for sitting in, not dusting from time to time. I’ll have my dear garden, and the longed-for visit of a precious friend for a few weeks, and another trip to see my sister in New York to look forward to and enjoy. And stacks and stacks of books!

So, I’m going on something of a summer holiday around here. I’m not closing up shop till September, or anything. But the pace will be noticeably light. I’ll still be writing for the Young Ladies Christian Fellowship, and I’ll post links here when I have anything new. Check back in from time to time…but in the meantime, enjoy your own summer holidays!     

What I’ve Been Pondering

Friday, May 26th, 2006

A couple of weeks ago we were sitting on the front porch of our dear friends in Birmingham, savoring a cup of tea and fresh scones with them and a new friend from across the street. How effortlessly does conversation flourish upon the common ground of our fellowship in Christ! We womenfolk had kept up a steady stream of it—all through the morning’s occupation of canning just-picked strawberries into preserves and the afternoon’s job of painting siding. And now, with our work wrapped up, we were idling in comfortable chairs and on the porch swing, thrashing out the implications of the simplified life we’d been espousing in our talk all day long. The variance between balance—which is what we all seem to begin with in our search for simplicity—and complete surrender to God and His purposes for us—which, in the end, is the real answer and essence of what we’re longing for in the first place. God’s call on our life shouldn’t stress us out; it’s all of the personal expectations we add on top of it, all of the ‘ought to’s’ and ‘should have’s’. And the ‘yes’s’ that needed to have been ‘no’s’.

I happened to have with me an essay by Thomas Kelly which addressed this very thing, which I’ve read over and over and am still trying to digest, and which seemed to both express and underscore all we were groping to articulate. I was only too eager to comply when my friend suggested that I read it aloud. And so, with babies bouncing on laps and children squealing on the swing in the yard below, and with many an exchange of knowing looks among ourselves, I shared these words from a great Quaker saint of fifty years ago. It is staggering to realize that our ‘modern’ problems of haste and hurry are really nothing new…        

Here are a few choice selections from The Simplification of Life. This essay in its entirety can be found in the jewel of a book A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly, which I highly recommend.

One can have a very busy day, outwardly speaking, and yet be steadily in the holy Presence. We do need a half-hour or an hour of quiet reading and relaxation. But I find that one can carry the recreating silences within oneself, well-nigh all the time. With delight I read Brother Lawrence, in his Practice of the Presence of God. At the close of the Fourth Conversation it is reported of him, "He was never hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its season, with an even, uninterrupted composure and tranquility of spirit. ‘The time of business,’ he said, ‘does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.’ "

Our real problem, in falling to center down, is not a lack of time; it is, I fear, in too many of us, lack of joyful, enthusiastic delight in Him, lack of deep, deep-drawing love directed toward Him at every hour of the day and night.

I think it is clear that I am talking about a revolutionary way of living. Religion isn’t something to be added to our other duties, and thus make our lives yet more complex. The life with God is the center of life, and all else is remodeled and integrated by it. It gives the singleness of eye. The most important thing is not to be perpetually passing out cups of cold water to a thirsty world. We can get so fearfully busy trying to carry out the second great commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," that we are under-developed in our devoted love to God. But we must love God as well as neighbor. These things ye ought to have done and not to have left the other only partially done.

One can live in a well-nigh continuous of unworded prayer directed toward God, directed toward people and enterprises we have on our heart. There is no hurry about it all; it is a life unspeakable and full of glory, an inner world of splendor within which we, unworthy, may live. Some of you know it and live in it; others of you may wistfully long for it; it can be yours.

It is because from this holy Center we re-love people, re-love our neighbors as ourselves, that we are bestirred to be means of their awakening. The deepest need of men is not food and clothing and shelter, important as they are. It is God. We have mistaken the nature of poverty, and thought it was economic poverty. No, it is poverty of soul, deprivation of God’s recreating, loving peace. Peer into poverty and see if we are really getting down to the deepest needs, in our economic salvation schemes. These are important. But they lie farther along the road, secondary steps toward world reconstruction. The primary step is a holy life, transformed and radiant in the glory of God.

This love of people is well-nigh as amazing as the love of God. Do we want to help people because we feel sorry for them, or because we genuinely love them? The world needs something deeper than pity; it needs love. (How trite that sounds, how real it is!) But in our love of people are we to be excitedly hurried, sweeping all men and tasks into our loving concern? No, that is God’s function. But He, working within us, portions out His vast concern into bundles. and lays on each of us our portion. These become our tasks. Life from the Center is a heaven-directed life.

Much of our acceptance of multitudes of obligations is due to our inability to say No. We calculated that that task had to be done, and we saw no one ready to undertake it. We calculated the need, and then calculated our time, and decided maybe we could squeeze it in somewhere. But the decision was a heady decision, not made within the sanctuary of the soul. When we say Yes or No to calls for service on the basis of heady decisions, we have to give reasons, to ourselves and to others. But when we say Yes or No to calls, on the basis of inner guidance and whispered promptings of encouragement from the Center of our life, or on the basis of a lack of any inward "rising" of that Life to encourage us in the call, we have no reason to give, except one–the will of God as we discern it.

Then we have begun to live in guidance. And I find He never guides as into an intolerable scramble of panting feverishness. The Cosmic Patience becomes, in part, our patience, for after all God is at work in the world. It is not we alone who are at work in the world, frantically finishing a work to be offered to God.

Life from the Center is a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It is amazing. It is triumphant. It is radiant. It takes no time, but it occupies all our time. And it makes our life programs new and overcoming. We need not get frantic. He is at the helm. And when our little day is done we lie down quietly in peace, for all is well.

An Unfulfilled Promise

Saturday, May 20th, 2006

Way back in March I promised to share a new poet I’ve grown to admire. I thought it was high time I kept my word. 🙂

Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984) struck a chord with me from my very first perusal of his works. He was called a modern-day Tennyson, and I can see why. His lyrics flow on with such grace and careful poise; his subject matter is often sentimental. The critics didn’t know what to do with him, but the people loved him. And in 1972 he became the Poet Laureate of England. He was a contemporary of Evelyn Waugh’s at Oxford (who among you would recognize the large teddy bear he carried with him througout his college days?), attended C.S. Lewis’ Magdalen College (though he never completed his degree) and came to Christ, as he claimed, by the lure of the sheer beauty of the Church. Many of his poems capture the mystery and holiness of the Anglican service, from choir boys chanting timeless anthems to rosy light falling through ancient stained glass windows.  He was as famous for his crusade to save England from the irrevokable ravages of development as he was for his poetry, which often addresses the same cause. And most of the pictures I’ve ever seen of him are of a great, jolly-looking man with an enormous smile on his face. I can’t help but like him.

Here is the first poem of his I ever read, which still remains a great favorite of mine. It caught my heart with its lament for the England I love. But I found a sad parallel in what I see happening in my beloved historic corner of the South.

Inexpensive Progress

Encase your legs in nylons,
Bestride your hills with pylons
O age without a soul;
Away with gentle willows
And all the elmy billows
That through your valleys roll.

Let’s say goodbye to hedges
And roads with grassy edges
And winding country lanes;
Let all things travel faster
Where motor car is master
Till only Speed remains.

Destroy the ancient inn-signs
But strew the roads with tin signs
‘Keep Left,’ ‘M4,’ ‘Keep Out!’
Command, instruction, warning,
Repetitive adorning
The rockeried roundabout;

For every raw obscenity
Must have its small ‘amenity,’
Its patch of shaven green,
And hoardings look a wonder
In banks of floribunda
With floodlights in between.

Leave no old village standing
Which could provide a landing
For aeroplanes to roar,
But spare such cheap defacements
As huts with shattered casements
Unlived-in since the war.

Let no provincial High Street
Which might be your or my street
Look as it used to do,
But let the chain stores place here
Their miles of black glass facia
And traffic thunder through.

And if there is some scenery,
Some unpretentious greenery,
Surviving anywhere,
It does not need protecting
For soon we’ll be erecting
A Power Station there.

When all our roads are lighted
By concrete monsters sited
Like gallows overhead,
Bathed in the yellow vomit
Each monster belches from it,
We’ll know that we are dead.

John Betjeman (High and Low, 1966)

For more on this fascinating artist and Christian gentleman, visit the official John Betjeman site

And I’m looking forward to diving into Summoned by Bells, his autobiography in verse. I obtained a copy from that same little English book shop in Birdhole Lane. 🙂

Bits and Pieces

Monday, May 15th, 2006

I’ve been having trouble with my internet connection this past week and the windows of time that I’ve been able to get online have been quite hit or miss…my apologies to those of you who have sent me kind emails and such.  Hopefully we’ll have this resolved soon!

Also, because I have been inundated with all kinds of tacky spam–and, consequently, using my online moments to delete it!!–I am now requiring that anyone who wishes to leave a comment be registered as a user and logged in. (See the ‘Log In’ button on the side bar.) This only takes a moment, for those of you who haven’t already done it, and gives me no more information than simply leaving a comment does. I hope that this won’t discourage any of the sweet conversation we’ve had here in the past. 🙂 

And for today, here’s a piece that I wrote for the Young Ladies Christian Fellowship.

A wonderful week to all of my dear readers! 🙂 

Garden Reading

Saturday, May 6th, 2006

I could read a seed catalogue from cover-to-cover.

Especially one with beautiful photographs. I still remember the thrill of that first one from Park Seed, and the infinite sense of possibility that it offered me. I was seventeen, and completely dazzled with the notion that a whole garden could come from an envelope of those famous gold seed packets. And so inexpensively! I promptly ordered all sorts of unsuitable things for a beginner, like delphinium and larkspur. And while I was waiting for them to come, I obtained permission to appropriate a corner of our front yard for my garden. My mother was so gracious…and when none of the seeds came up that first year, she bought me some pretty little annuals in a burst of compassion.

The next year I was smart. I set all my new seeds out early in flats under plastic and nurtured them on our enclosed porch. Sweet peas and forget-me-nots grew and flourished into tiny seedlings. But the first night that I set them out to ‘harden off’ we had a rain storm of torrential proportions. I didn’t remember them until a burst of lightning awakened me with a start around two a.m. Mama and I stood on the porch together in our nightgowns and mourned all the poor little plants. Another year for annuals…

That year’s tragedy was mitigated somewhat by the fact that I had diversified. To be sure, my flowers had all been lost upon the flood, but a delightful delivery was on its way: three hybrid tea roses from Jackson & Perkins.  They had been ordered for weeks, and were promised to be sent at the appropriate planting time for our area. And that magic time happened to fall right in the middle of my two week mission trip to Russia that spring. Mama opened the box with fear and trembling, and she and my brother set them out where they hoped I wanted them. (Which was precisely correct, by the way.)

I learned so much through those early failures and sweet little successes. Above all, I discovered that despite the heartbreaking trials of it all, I really, really wanted to garden. To be a gardener. To cherish some of God’s loveliest creations into existence. Through the sage advice of other lovers of the soil, and through lots and lots of disasters :), I’ve gotten a little experience under my belt now. Even so, every season poses a new challenge, and bitterly-remembered adversaries to contest with. Bacterial rot. Squash vine borers. Slugs and drought and mildew and hail. But every time I put out my seeds or nestle a plant into a prepared bed, my heart whispers that very same little prayer that it did years ago when I patted those tiny bits of promise from Park Seed into red clay in my parents’ front yard:

Thou visitest the earth and waterest it…Thou makest it soft with showers: Thou blessest the springing thereof.

Psalm 65: 9, 10

I love to read about gardening almost as much as I love gardening itself. And really, the studying and learning is every bit as important as proper maintenance. It’s all part of the same joy of discovery. So permit me to share a few of my favorites…

That second spring I purchased my first two garden books. They were both respected Rodale publications: Illustrated Encyclopedia of Perennials and Growing Fruits and Vegetables Organically. The former was fuel for my aspirations; the latter was fodder for future dreams. Now the Fruits and Vegetables book is warped from sun exposure and muddied from on-site reference, and remains one of my all-time, hands-down favorites. It was there I learned about pasteurizing potting mix and when to harvest beans and how to pinch back tomatoes. But don’t imagine that Perennials has fallen upon neglect. It still ventures forth with me from time to time, especially with the introduction of a new lady to my flower garden.

A gardening friend gave me a gem for my birthday one year: Month-by-Month Gardening in Georgia by Walter Reeves and Erica Glasener. It’s such a fabulous reference tool, with an extensive chapter on each of the various classes–annuals, bulbs, edibles, houseplants, lawns and perennials–that tells you what you should be doing for your garden at any given time of the year right here in Georgia. I can only recommend it to local friends, of course :), but I encourage you to find out if your state has a similar publication. A few years ago I made a huge calendar of all the things I thought we needed to be doing during each month, gleaned from reading old Southern garden books. What a relief to find everything all in one place! With the non-essentials eliminated! More time for actually smelling the roses…

Speaking of old books, another of my dearest ones is a trim little volume I picked up years ago at Downs Books. It’s called Gardening in the South by George R. Briggs, and its glossy pages are peppered with black and white photographs of old Southern homes shaded with magnolias and spreading lawns fringed with spirea and azaleas.  The information in this solid little book is straight-forward and no-nonsense. Reading it is like talking to one of our grandmothers about plants. Good, sound advice with no unnecessary frills. The best quote of all comes from the chapter on roses–you must permit me to share it with you:

The writer knows of one great lover of Roses who buys dozens of the finest varieties each year which grow and bloom beautifully, but this person’s Rose garden is lacking in beauty and fails to show its splendor because the Roses are not in beds and bare soil only glares at the onlooker, thus ruining the entire display.

I confess, we read the above with a few chuckles. But then we went right out and bought some grass seed to sow in our rock-lined rose bed, in place of the shameful mulch-covered dirt. 🙂

Another gift from this book is the intensely practical information on propagation from cuttings. I have become a firm believer in this most satisfying of garden rituals, thanks to this book’s simple illustrations and forthright text. I almost felt like George R. Briggs was standing over my shoulder that first winter as I stared in amazement at the tiny buds appearing on what seemed to be dead little twigs, saying, ‘See, I told you it would work.’ (I’ll share the process later, if anyone’s interested. :))

I’ve already mentioned Ruth Stout, the guardian angel of vegetable gardens. I’ll just re-iterate here that reading her book absolutely changed my whole approach to gardening and made it so much more fun and rewarding that I can’t say enough in her praise. If you’re thinking of starting a garden, and feel overwhelmed–as I did five years into mine–then get your hands on anything Ruth Stout has written. Post-haste!

Tasha Tudor recommended Flowers from Seed to Bloom by Eileen Powell, and I bought it without a second thought. It’s another reference, indispensable if you have a penchant for perennials from seed. And if you need a reason for going to all the trouble and worry, then all I suggest is a perusal of Tasha Tudor’s Garden by Tovah Martin of Victoria magazine fame. It will have you planting fairy rings of pinks and weaving daisy garlands.     

I just finished a charming book called Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim. Some of you may recognize her as the author of Enchanted April. I bought it from an English bookseller called ‘Brimstones’ on Birdhole Lane (how enchanting!). This is a non-fiction account of her happy days buried away in an old schloss in the German countryside with nothing but books and babies and an unspeakably dear garden to occupy her mind and heart. An Englishwoman married to a German nobleman at the turn of the last century, she finds her life somewhat cramped by the dictates of decorum which prevent her from so much as taking up a spade in her own hands. But her wearisome trials with various gardeners and assistants have a spice of humor to them which she is well-aware of, and which she portrays–along with her raptures over roses and flowers–with a truly beautiful and engaging style. Her simple joy was a fresh-faced reminder of why we garden in the first place. A delightful read…and full of so many gorgeous color plates that it’s a feast for the eyes.

 

 

 from Elizabeth and Her German Garden

 

Foxgloves and Forget-Me-Nots

Friday, April 28th, 2006

 

What felicity on earth can compare to that of setting out the seeds for a summer vegetable garden in the midst of the gentlest of April showers? It was like a benediction upon my labors and the fruits to follow…if only it could exercise some sway over squash vine borers…

Elizabeth von Arnim says that ‘Humility, and the most patient perseverance, seem almost as necessary in gardening as rain and sunshine, and every failure must be used as a stepping stone to something better.’ 

How exactingly true is that statement of my experience! Perhaps I’m reaching a point where I can smile more at my mistakes—and they are many! Or perhaps the sweet little successes I’ve had with forget-me-nots and foxgloves take the sting out of old failures. Whatever the case, I must admit, however, to an incapacitating fear after sprinkling compost over all my flower seeds today. Would the richness of it as a covering burn my little seedlings before they’d had half a chance to emerge? Ah, such are the trials of a gardener! I guess I have only to wait and see, which seems like an impossible task at this point. I was already out today checking on the seeds I sowed yesterday! 

I’m so pleased with my flower garden…it looks so dainty and tidy and yet so established. I do hope that those white forget-me-nots which promised to bloom through October are respectable plants and keep their word. And I’m in a fever of anticipation over my new Bouncing Bets. Ever since reading of them in Pat of Silver Bush I’ve been dying to grow them. I don’t even know what they look like—I used to call that beloved magenta summer phlox ‘Bouncing Bets’ out of sheer wishful thinking, but now I have them both. And the phlox is giving me every reason to expect Great Things.

I sowed my cosmos and zinnias on the outer beds of my vegetable garden today. I tried to convince myself last year that the petunias, begonias and marigolds I planted in their place really were better and easier to manage, but, while the latter point may hold true, the fact of the matter is that I just missed them too dreadfully. So, for better or for worse, I’ll have my cosmos and zinnias once again running riot through wandering tomato vines and leaning out over the lawn in a most appropriating fashion. As it should be.

Along the back border I sowed sunflowers and marigolds, and in the middles of the outer beds borage and Chinese forget-me-nots—not true myosotis but a very cheerful little imposter that flowers easily in our hot, humid summer. How I crave and cherish those rare flashes of blue!

Yet again, I planted moon vine with my morning glories, though in five or six years I’ve had but one success. But it was sweet enough—those translucent white blooms unfurling with such unearthly fragrance on summer evenings—to make me try once more.

I’m quite cocky over my foxgloves. I hate to harp on them, but they really are majestic. I think I’ve earned my bragging rights, the way I hovered over them last winter in the basement and nursed them through a long hot summer in little pots on my tree-shaded patio. Their present beauty—pink, white and mauve stakes against the picket fence and flanked with lavender–is enough to make me want to start some more in the basement this very instant.

 

Auld Lang Syne

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

An impromtu and blessedly sweet gathering of dear girlfriends a few weeks ago turned into a ‘high school reunion’ of sorts; a fête for old friendship and old times, as we realized how quickly time had flown since we’d all been together in those homeschool days gone by. Our guest of honor, the returning comrade whose visit we were celebrating in the first place, walked in looking tall and gorgeous, with her old beautiful smile for everyone and an armload of roses for me, at which I shrieked and fell upon with delight–at least 30 in every shade, yellow, red, pink, orange and white!

 

It was such a precious evening, a moment on loan from our happy girlhood. We shared love stories and children’s names and wedding pictures. We laughed over adventures and exploits and even cried a little. And when everyone left, nearly six hours later, I was exhausted but elated. Cleaning up and setting the rooms to rights, snuffing the candles and laying out the dried silver on the dining room table, my mind was a happy jumble of sweet conversations and kindled memories. How blessed I am to have had such companions on the Golden Road…

Once upon a time we all walked on the Golden Road. It was a fair highway, through the Land of Lost Delight; shadow and sunshine were blessedly mingled, and every turn and dip revealed a fresh charm and a new loveliness to eager hearts and unspoiled eyes.

On that road we heard the song of morning stars; we drank in fragrances aerial and sweet as a May mist; we were rich in gossamer fancies and iris hopes; our hearts sought, and found, the boon of dreams; the years waited beyond and they were very fair; life was a rose-lipped comrade with purple flowers dripping from her fingers…

Forward from The Golden Road by Lucy Maud Montgomery   

From My Garden

Thursday, April 13th, 2006

I’ve spent every spare moment in the garden this week. How wonderful to be alive and outside in such a lovely old world as this! I simply cannot believe it each morning as I see the sun rising over the woods to the east that we are to have yet another of these Eden days.

I have a ridiculous farmer’s tan (won’t that look charming with my Easter dress on Sunday?) and my Wellington boots stand by the back door in constant readiness. I’m just so full of joy in my awakening little realm that I can hardly stay indoors (except on these still-chilly mornings!). Every time I see a loved flower curling up from the earth, or hear the raptures of a mockingbird or catch the heady sweetness of wisteria on the air I remember that it was no coincidence our Savior’s resurrection occurred in the springtime. All creation is witnessing to that greatest of miracles, death to Life!

The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech and night unto night showeth knowledge! Psalm 19

I’m passionate about my garden, and I’m afraid that anyone who drops by in the next few weeks is going to get more giddy exaltations over ladybugs and compost and seedlings than perhaps they bargained for. 🙂 I’ve always wanted to grow things, and though most of my experience has come by trial and error I greet each planting season with a renewed enthusiasm and optimism. My garden journal may be more full of things not to do than of things that worked—for instance, I have given up on hybrid tea roses, as they are often laughingly treated as annuals here in the hot, humid South! But I have made joyful discoveries, as well: Virginia bluebells love the shady bed beneath my cedar trees; sweet peas will grow and actually bloom here if they’re planted no later than early January; coral bells are about the pluckiest plants around and strawberry foxgloves really are perennials!

One of my mother’s very dearest friends taught me how to garden, both by the loving example of her own flowering bit of earth as well as by actual hands-on expertise. She came over when I was still living at home and gently coached me on my little plot. She explained the needed balance between sand and mushroom compost and topsoil for our obstinate red clay, and she told me how to select plants from a nursery (and, for that matter, which nursery to go to! My favorite to this day!). She instructed me on which plants do best in our climate and gave me the confidence to drop a tidy little carefully-saved wad on an evanescent living thing simply because it was beautiful.

One of the first things I did that spring after Philip proposed was to plant a garden at my soon-to-be home. I could hardly wait to get my hands in the rich dirt around this place.

“Where do you want it?” he innocently inquired.

“Right there,” I sweetly replied, indicating the precise location upon which his bountiful woodpile reposed.

Being the darling that he is, he proceeded to cart away all the logs, and in their place I found loam richer than I dared hope—all that decomposed wood! Not long after I had my beds prepared my mother’s beautiful friend came over with a car load of rootings and young plants from her own garden, and out of the thousand kindnesses she showed me during that sweet time, none could be dearer to me than this. She gave me sweet woodruff, brown-eyed Susans, spiderwort and a ‘Fairy’ rose. I planted them with tender thoughts, for to a gardener, a living plant from another gardener is truly a bit of themselves. The rose is now three and blooms profusely in dainty pink clusters, and the spiderwort (such an ungainly name for such a graceful plant!) opened its first flowers of the season today.

So, you’ll find me in the garden these days. But I’ll be back soon to tell you about my very cherished garden books, the ones that go out into the yard with me and whose pages are begrimed with garden soil…

Enchanted April

Thursday, April 6th, 2006

It happens every year. March gives way to April, and I wake up one morning and see that a miracle has transpired, overnight, as it were. And every year I am unflinchingly convinced that no spring has ever been as gorgeous as this one. ‘How could it have been?’ I ask myself. If it were, we’d spend all of the rest of the year pining for its charms. But one glance through my journals reminds me that the God who masterfully blends our love of the familiar with our passion for change has outdone Himself every year since spring ever was. 

Here are some previous raptures…

April 2002

We planted 10 apple trees in the front pasture. I told Philip that if my children are going to have an orchard to play in, we’d better get busy and plant it now. He agreed–his philosophy is that ‘now is always the time to plant trees!’

I’m like a little child with my garden: I run out every morning and inspect everything carefully to see what’s grown and what’s coming up, even digging around a bit to see if late-comers have germinated! And they’re all appearing day by day–beans, squash, okra, cucumbers, corn, nasturtiums, four-o-clocks! The tomatoes and peppers are thriving, too. I planted a combination of sunny marigolds, blue plumbago and red salvia with them.  

April 2003

This sweet April has stolen my heart…my little world is a rhapsody of birdsong and green leaves and wavering sunbeams all infused with an essence no perfumer could ever hope to imitate. After church yesterday I laid in the hammock for a long time, dozing and day-dreaming and just looking…I feel so rich in violets and bluebirds, in glittering sunsets and rosy dawns.

We had tea under the cherry tree. I wanted Philip to experience it before the blooms all shattered–and, as it was, there were soft little showers of petals the entire time we sat there. 

April 2005

There is a brood of downy chicks in the basement, pecking and scratching and preening in a most business-like manner. It’s so funny to see those little balls of fluff pretending to be grown-up hens. I won’t admit how much of my day I stand watching them…but, honestly, is there anything in the world so adorable as a baby chick?

In the potting shed there are rows of young plants just bursting to get into the garden. I’ve cut back a bit this year, but there will always be room for my foxgloves and hollyhocks and basil and tomatoes. Not to mention my yearly attempts at Flemish poppies and lavendar. But there are still stacks of seed packets in the refrigerator waiting for the magic middle of April to be direct-sown! 

April 2004

I haven’t written yet of the charms of this beautiful April–of the grey and silver days of steady showers; of the hushed expectation of a garden all in bud; of the maidenly approach of warmer weather. When I cross the lawn in the mornings on my way down to the chicken pen, the sweet, simple odor of clover wafts all about me and the world seems washed clean in the glittering dew. Oh, it’s all so lovely–every time I step outside I feel compelled to lift my heart in praise and thanksgiving.

I was talking to a friend yesterday on the tree-shaded porch of a little French bistro just off Peachtree Street about what a healing time the spring is. We both waxed eloquent on the virtues of a long winter to put everything in perspective and to make the spring that much more precious when it comes. As Lucy Maud says, ‘It is always safe to dream of spring…’. To come out of darkness into a world of such gentle beauty and freshness is like a good, strong restorative to the soul.

~And, just to shake things up a bit… 😉

April 2001

Yesterday we drove through Chianti to Sienna. Our route wove through olive groves and vineyards, and was so typically Tuscan that we found ourselves laughing with sheer delight around each bend in the road that revealed yet another spread of sloping pastures and cypress trees, tall and dark against the bright green hills. We kept pulling over just to stare and enjoy!

At one point we came around a curve and met an old man with an enormous bale of hay across our lane. He started chattering away in Italian, cheerfully shouting, "Poggliobonsi! Poggliobonsi!", and pointing for us to turn around. We looked at each other, mystified, then, repairing to our map, realized that Poggliobonsi was a town in the opposite direction. With a little maneuvering we managed to re-route our course, and arrived in Sienna not much later than we had anticipated...  

Hope all of you are enjoying the delights of the season in your own part of this beautiful world!