Monday, March 1, 2010
Ice floes...part two
My husband and I spent our weekend in the garden. The unseasonal warmth and sunlight brought out the neighborhood children, including ours, and offered a false sense of impending spring. I fell for it and bought plants. I'll never be sorry for hoping too soon, for spring or anything else.
We have talked of my back story and the winter within. We've talked of war and loss. We've visited the weavers hut and heard the faint promise of a season to come, whispered of from far beneath the snow. But even as the narrator, I cannot tell you what is behind the Weaver's smile, cannot look onto his loom and tell you what the tapestry will be- my interest lies beyond his small house, in the garden, under the frozen layer where a tendril, strong and green, has begun to stir and spin and melt the snow around it with the warmth of its hope.
I was raised on five acres. As an adult, that doesn't seem like much. But from the vantage of childhood, that small piece of property was a wilderness of possibility. I knew every tree and path and crossing and spent a good portion of my youth covered in the dirt of that land.
The house itself sat far back from the winding country road, surrounded by ornamental cherry's and the deep green of cedar and fir. In the winter, the quarter mile walk from the end of our drive where the school bus picked us up and dropped us off, was long and snow covered. My brother and I didn't walk those accumulated miles together. He jumped off the bus and trudged ahead, not wanting contact. I let him go.
We walked in silence, his gate so much faster than mine that soon he was out of sight, down the hill and around the bend towards home. I took my time, kicked the snow, watched the sky change to afternoon gray, went carefully so I didn't spook the heron that sometimes stole the bullfrogs from the duckpond. Down the hill and past the lower pasture where our horses stood ankle deep in frozen mud and manure, breathing in the cold air and letting it bellow out of their great lungs like ghostly apparitions in the late afternoon chill. It was a walk in silence and frost and darkness. A walk alone, the way we both preferred it.
As the years passed, season changing into season, I learned which tree's showed springs earliest growth, which lilies woke first and broke through frozen ground. I learned to watch carefully, and listen carefully, for the signs. A relationship formed between myself and that land, those tree's, the row of weeping birch that ushered the child home, the dignified Iris at the corner of my horses barn, the deep foliage of Hosta beneath the deck stairs where it was shady in summer's heat. When I think of a garden, this is what I know; season after season, when it is loved, it remains faithful. It always returns.
At the end of that stand of Birch along our drive, stood a solitary tree. It wasn't a birch and it stood out horribly against the backdrop of those enormous, towering giants. Small and slim and ordinary, it appeared never to grow, remaining a sapling for what seemed like decades. I don't know who planted it or where it came from, but it sprouted right in line with all those glorious birch, wise with their fifty plus years, casting their shade over the smaller. It never blossomed, never twisted, never did anything other than just stand there and be ordinary. But of all my fathers garden, out of all his specimen plants and roses and Japanese Maples and Lilies, this tree was my favorite.
When all the garden was still sleeping in winters ice, this tree began to grow. It became ritual to stop and examine on my way down the long road towards home, to look in on the little tree where she stood in line, proudly defiant, to pull her branch down and feel along the curve for the evidence of buds, the slight lift of bark. And it would always be there, in early February, tiny breaks that would be leaf and branch and spring. Within weeks those breaks were embryonic leaves, tightly curled against the cold. And then, as if they'd had enough and were just going to face the frost, they exploded into green. And that little tree, alone in a line of older, wiser peers, was life, and breath, and promise. It held my hope in it's branches.
When my father left and I began to move from place to place, I left that tree and all the others, all those relationships, behind me. Fall came, and all the once loved leaves of spring and summer, released and fell to die, and it seemed for some time that spring would never come again. I steadied myself from heartache, from orphanhood, and walked forward into a winter that endured indefinitely. No tears would fall, no smile lay fully open to joy, the heart would sit dormant and chilled and wait for peace or hope to find it, beating quietly in this half breathed life.
For some it's cancer, for others it's death or divorce or Jesus, the thing that awakens them to the life in which they live and walk and speak and are. Something happens and then it's as if they know something that everyone else has missed somehow and suddenly they're flooded with something...life maybe...or joy...or understanding. And they are quite suddenly alive.
For me, it's been different. It's been quiet at times and screaming at me at others. It's been laughter over coffee. It's been Long Island Iced tea's on a dark deck, the smell of a friend's pipe tobacco reminding me of my grandfather and simpler times. It's been running, literally, in the middle of winter when it's fourteen degree's and so cold I lose feeling in my face, running and running, miles at a time, and wondering what I'm running from.
When that first tear fell in November, over something small and delightful, a tear of joy, I panicked, worried that it would be like breaking a dam, the flooding destructive, and I struggled for control. When it happened again, I wrote my pastor a letter of concern and told him something horrible was happening.
When we cleaned our basement and I realized I'd wasted ten years of my life storing away my hopes and dreams and 'valuables' on shelves in a basement and not in the people that I truly care about, I wept. In public. In front of actual people as I told the story at a friends house. And as a sign of loyalty, my friend wept with me.
Behind these moments, there has been a sound, steady, continuing, strong. The sound of ice breaking, that eerie groaning that signals danger. And it does, to some extent, signal that for me. But I'm not standing on that frozen tundra. I'm beneath it. And that sound is freedom, too. It's the sound of life returning to the garden, the rush of the creek, the song of finch, the silent growth of that little tree at the end of the Birch stand, unfurling her leaves in spite of the barren winter around her, the steady drip of melting ice falling away, rushing away, in the light of hope.
I can look back now with peace, into that tiny, childish bedroom where my father used to sit and tell me stories. I can see him sitting there even now, head lowered, voice quiet and the child watching every word with eyes full of wonder. I'm a woman at the door. And I can reach, and slowly close it, can say goodbye to that sweet girl who didn't deserve to be left. And goodbye, too, to the man who hurt too much to stay.
It's usually only with time that I can look back and see clearly, as if I have to get a certain distance away before the past really makes sense. I'm happy to say that I think I've finally gotten to that point, made peace with my old hauntings and let them drift back where they belong permanently. I'm an orphan of sorts, and I've found balance in that. I wouldn't want to change it now, even if I could. It's my story. As much a part of me as that tiny tree.
At this discovery, sunlight spills across the floor and beckons to warmth. To hope.
It's too nice to stay inside. Spring is here. And I want to spend it in the garden.
At the Weaver's hut, the snow is gone. That tiny tendril has grown tall in the corner of His garden and has stretched into a strong sapling, ordinary, but lovely. And still defiant. She is the first to open her leaves in winter. She will never be sorry for hoping too soon. For spring, or anything else.
Posted by melissa at 3:20 PM