The Garden Chronicles ~ Oct. 15, 2011

 “Nature is the living, visible garment of God.”  ~ Goethe

This was a bittersweet day. A strong gusty wind, kind of drizzly in the morning, cloudy with sunny breaks in the afteroon. The wind was invigorating. It whipped the trees around and made everything seem as if it had come alive. The trees and shrubs and grasses were all bowing to the east. I was in a Van Gogh painting, the landscape swirling with energy around me. Or maybe a kind of Pentecost reverberation. You could imagine God on the move, a wildness in the air.

It was definitely a fall day. I wore a jacket and two pairs of gloves. A knitted pair of finger gloves inside my leather garden gloves. The leather gloves were going to get wet, so I needed the knitted gloves to keep my fingers warm. First I picked up five or six pails of walnuts. They were mushy from the rain. For some reason, this year we had a bumper crop of walnuts. I theorize that the six weeks of spring rain might have had something to do with it. Mark thinks it’s just cyclical. Every couple of years we get a ton of walnuts dropping down. They make a mess on our laneway as Mark’s truck and my car crunch over them. They start out hard and green; by this time in October, they are yellow and squishy, many of them already brown or black with rot. Most of them were lying amongst the fallen leaves. I pick them up in case I still have a chance to cut the grass one more time this fall. I need to do some serious raking, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.
I spent about three hours filling four gigantic clear plastic bags with ripped-out annuals. This is sad because so many of them are still lush and growing – like the orange and scarlet celosia, the bright yellow dahlias and marigolds. But I know cold days are just around the corner. I don’t want to do this job when it’s freezing! It’s easy work for the most part. The alyssum and begonias just slide out of the ground, hardly taking any soil with the roots. The impatiens are slimy and messier. I pull weeds out while I’m at it. I leave all the grasses and the clematis and the sedums because they look so magnificent with the snow on them in the winter, and I leave the coneflowers for the birds to snack on. 
What’s good about a day like today, though, is thinking about spring. Thinking about the 90 tulip bulbs I’ll plant next week in the west garden where I’ve cleared out all the annuals. I got them cheap at Costco… a pastel mix of purple, pinks and soft creamy white. I make mental notes about which annuals did well and about how many I’ll need to get next year, and whether to go with alyssum or begonias as my border plants. My niece’s wedding will be in our backyard next August, so there’s lots to plan for… 
It was also a good day because I didn’t have to go anywhere. I had no errands to do. The whole day was devoted to being outside, having the occasional coffee break with Mark, who was working in the garage, refurbishing our stair railings. He’s re-staining the hand rails and painting the spindles white. It was a good day because I’m most thankful and peaceful when I’m in the garden. I pray. I pray for people who need prayer. But I also thank God for stuff, too. I thank God for my garden almost every day, for the joy it brings me, for the solitude I find there that is never lonely. My mind quiets down. Even though the garden is already starting to look messy, stems and stalks drying up and curling brown, and moist and sticky black leaves gumming up the beds, it still has a kind of last gasp dignity.   
It was also a good day because I had time to reflect on it and share it with you. 🙂

Passing the peace on the street


(Christian Courier column, August 22nd, 2011)

Today a handsome, twenty-one year old guy hugged me on the street. Not something that happens every day, mind you.

I went for a walk after supper. Headphones on, head down, watching the sidewalk because I invariably trip when I get moving too fast for my varicose veins to keep up. I almost ran into the guy on the bike with his dog on a leash. He smiled at me and I knew who it was . . . a former student I hadn’t seen in years.

He grinned at me. “Hi, Mrs. Smith. How are ya?” I gave him a wide smile, genuinely pleased to see him. Dustin*. So many memories. He’d been a handful in my classroom, to put it tactfully. Athletic, charismatic. The girls all liked him. A wiseacre and not above bullying others. Back then I walked a tightrope with him, trying to keep him focused on achievement, when he could have everything he wanted based on good looks and charm. But he had potential as a student, and, deep down, he was a sensitive and gifted artist. He could draw. He could envision a project and execute it perfectly. He had imagination and patience. In art class, a different student emerged, focused and self-motivated. I could praise him without reservation for his originality and effort. And I did. I entered his work in some student exhibitions. I asked if I could keep some of his pieces for future displays and workshops. I still have some of them.
Dustin had his reasons for volatility. A few years later, his parents went through a bitter divorce. His life became overshadowed by conflict. Eventually, he left town.
So it was a surprise to see him on the main street. I asked him how he was doing. He told me that he was excited because he had been accepted into an apprenticeship program. He was only in town temporarily, and would be moving again soon. Didn’t see much of his younger brother anymore.
He asked me what I was doing. I told him I was retired. Walking to lose weight and stay fit. He told me that he had lost forty pounds. He had gotten “really huge” for a while, but that it felt good to be back at a normal weight. One of the reasons he goes biking every day. He told me I looked good. Ever the charmer.
I asked him if he was doing any art. Not much, he replied, but he still had a sketch pad. Keep it up, I told him. You know you’ve got it. It’ll be there when you have time to work on it again. I told him I still had some of his work in my files.

Was he seeing anyone? I asked. Yeah, he was seeing a girl, but taking it slow. That’s good, I said. You probably know better than most, how important that is.

A bit more small talk. He straightened up and pulled his dog in. I wished him well in his apprenticeship. I was about to say goodbye. He looked directly at me with a frank and honest gaze, spread open his arms, and invited a hug. So I hugged him. Then I gave him a light punch on his shoulder and said, “If you’re ever talking to your brother, tell him hello from me. And, hey, I’ll pray for you guys.” And, as I walked on, I did.

Because I think I know what that hug was about. It was “thanks.” Thanks for putting up with my shenanigans and liking me even though I was a disturber in your class. Thanks for recognizing that I was good at something beyond the crash and dash of male puberty. Thanks for not judging me based on what happened in my family. Thanks for remembering me a decade or more later and smiling at me like you still care.

I hope he had a sense of what the hug was about from my side: Yes, I still care. Just doing my best to pay it forward because, once upon a time, I was rather a disturber myself. Just passing on the peace of Christ.

* This story was shared with permission, and Dustin’s name has been changed.