When Nora and I pulled up the drive, leaves swirled distractedly across the gravel. Two cats ran up complaining that we hadn't fed them at 8 AM that morning, the usual breakfast hour for farm felines. I put the car in park, turned the key and glanced up. The shop door was banging open and closed in the wind. I usually don't fiddle with anything in back as I figure if the guys left it that way, they probably meant to leave it that way. But all the trucks were gone and the shop's interior was dark. "Be right back, Nora." I got out, careful to hold the door while I opened it in case the wind tried to blow it from its hinges, and walked through the mulberry trees where the ropes from our hammock hung empty down the trunks waiting to be lifted into usefulness again in Spring.
I thought of the knots I'd learned to tie this year and felt a curious sense of strength there as if knot tying would somehow equip me against some sort of antagonist--primarily the antagonist who said I didn't know how to tie a knot. Well, yeah, actually I do.
I shut the shop door with the sense of anonymous helpfulness one gets from doing a deed no one will know about and as I walked back to the car, I glanced to the side of the garage where Ila had planted most of her asparagus. "It gets the most sun there of anywhere," she said. When the colder weather began to show up, I planted a rosemary bush there and threw a few handfuls of cilantro seeds into the mix, kicking dirt over them with the toe of my boot, the kind of planting practice that relies more on the hardiness and will to live that God inscribed in the seed than in any belief that I could somehow make it grow if only I had the right tools on hand.
Green. It caught my eye in the same way a movie with a summer landscape all green and glorious will tear me up in winter, longing. I had noticed the day before that my strawberry plants were coming up, that clover and lamb's ear were appearing around the front steps. The rosemary bush was looking good, like it had been in the ground long enough to take hold, find a home there and hunker down for the long freeze, but what really interested me was the bunch of cilantro I found, close to the ground, fanning out, green and familiar. I kneeled down and pinched a leaf to taste. Yep. That's cilantro. And this is January. I wondered at the thickness of its stem, the way it was clinging to the ground rather than growing upward as it usually does in the summer. It's staying warm, I thought. Keeping low to the ground and fanning out to gather the warmth of the earth and the sun's rays falling into its open, leafy palms. And aren't there times when conditions require us to lay low, hunker down, grow against our own grain so we might catch the warmth that would keep us alive? Lord, teach me to be comfortable with the unfamiliar so I might grow beyond the small vision I have of myself into this vision, the one You have always had in mind for me, my palms open and receptive, boldly green and thriving.
When I had us unloaded, I ran back out with my kitchen scissors to snip off the growth. Again, I felt that small strength inside me peering over the edge of the wall I've been living behind, and it seemed to be telling me about how I know how to identify plants now. My first month on the place, Ila walked me around pointing everything out in quick and indefinite flutters of her hand, "You can pull that" or "You can just cut that off there." I had a pencil and pad with me, which may have looked ridiculous. You don't need to take notes for this kind of thing. This is something you know from living it. And this seems like another truth: we can't know our lives until we've lived them.
And that's what I see now in me, the way God is growing me up enough to tie knots and shoo the possums and bury the unfortunate farm cats and know the difference between a good thing and a weed, and even more than that. I know what they call themselves, and I'm learning what He calls me.
Nora and I were sharing our dreams with each other tonight. She confessed she didn't want to go to sleep because of bad dreams. She spoke as if she were much older. "I had this dream when I was about four. There were two tunnels and down one were all of these things that looked good, like things that you would want, but once you went down that tunnel, you got stuck at the end on this big ball that had all these spikes on it."
I'm speechless thinking of temptation and excess and our own willful impulse to direct our own wanderings, following our bliss only to find that each thing we desired was a trap. How can she be so old? I can only think that the Holy Spirit has been teaching her for longer than I had guessed. I don't try to take what she's said and turn it into a lesson or interpret it for her. She seems to already understand what it means, why it was a nightmare.
And as the year comes to a close, there are paths and choices and turns I wasn't expecting (the end of a marriage and the beginning of a job I pray God helps me to do), knowledge I didn't know I needed, what roses eat, how to move the earth with the toe of your boot just enough to trust that all will grow and change as God intended.