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Fresh asparagus with mint.     YUM!

Fresh asparagus with mint.
YUM!

I am at war. I’m fighting a mighty battle, and I’m not sure who is winning. This pernicious enemy goes underground and emerges in sneaky places, taking me by surprise. Right now I’m convinced I’m outnumbered, but there is no way of knowing for sure how far this one will go. Just when I think I’ve decidedly won a battle, I blink, and discover a new line of attack. The latest is in the asparagus bed. I’m talking about the spreading mint, of course.

When I first decided to put mint in my garden, I was aware of all the dire warnings — DON”T DO IT!   Full confession here: I think it was arrogance on my part to believe I could control it. I’ll just stay right on top of it, I thought.  I really love being able to pick tons of fresh spearmint for summer time iced tea, or special garnish or sauce flavoring, or even just for rubbing between my fingers when I’m out for a garden stroll.  I had the perfect spot in my raised bed veggie garden, all boxed in, surrounded by landscaping cloth and wood chip path.  Dear hubby Jack even put in extra deep edging all the way around.  As my mint flourished and looked contained, I grew lackadaisical about it.

Sure, I’ve had to hack back some stragglers now and then, but mostly it seemed under control.  Until this spring when lots of bright green mint began to show up along the garden path, ten feet away!  Jack and I (well, mostly Jack) undertook a fierce project to tame back this invasive — we raked back the wood chips and ripped up the hard-pack paths where the roots were growing along deep underground, and with our bare knuckles, going along inch by inch, pried out every last shred of mint root we could find.  In fact, the whole mint bed came out, I even sifted with my fingers to recover the tiniest bits of white root tips and get them gone.

The smart thing might have been to eliminate the idea of mint altogether, and simply plan on harvesting from a neighbor when I’m in the mood for tea, but , no , I insisted on burying a deep trash barrel in the same spot, drain holes in the deep, deep bottom covered with a fine wire mesh.  I have to say, Jack was a good sport the whole time, as he supplied the labor.  Okay, this may buy me a couple years of self-contained mint-pleasure before it finds a way to escape (mint roots can go down three to four feet when they’re desperate, I understand!) but I’m stubborn that way.  I want to have my mint and grow it too.

Anyway, we thought we had it licked, and I went on about the zillion other spring chores in the gardens, like trying to get my carrot seeds in and pry dandelions out from among the daylilies.  And then the mint began cropping up in the middle of the raised asparagus bed!  Now, asparagus grows from deep, deep roots, buried about a foot down.  The only way for the mint to get in is from underneath the twelve-foot path, under the high side of the tiered asparagus bed, and we’re talking here about eighteen inches deep!  How do I dig down to find the bottom of the mint without destroying my asparagus?  And the roots are spreading everywhere!  AARGH!

Oh Father, my Creator, and the Gardener of my soul, facing and weeding out the tenaciousness of sin in my own heart is a truly impossible task.  I’m unaware of the roots until some meanness or selfishness in me pokes up, and I hurt the one I love.  You alone can reach my depths, and root out the nature of my sin from its very source, and even then, only as I rely on You and sincerely yield to your loving conviction.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
See if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the way of everlasting truth.

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amaryllisbulbIsaiah 43:19

 “Behold, I am doing something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will make a roadway into the wilderness,
and rivers in the dry desert.”

2 Corinthians 5:17

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old has passed away; behold, new things have come.”

My sister-in-law gave me an ugly amaryllis bulb for Christmas.  It is in a moss-covered pot, with an inch of green sprout showing.  Like all bulbs, the dull, dry, brown, flaky mass beneath the soil isn’t very attractive or promising.  But the thick green leaf just beginning to stretch up into the light is full of glory and things-hoped-for.  A magnificent amaryllis bloom is a stunning sight, and blesses my senses, and my home.  But this resurrection requires a healthy, nourishing soil, and Light.

Our little congregation has been going through the arduous process of a pastoral search.  It has been almost 2 years, and not even an interim on the horizon.  It seems not many qualified individuals are interested in uprooting to the hinter-winterland of Vermont.  Our last go-round left many among us hurting and confused, as the candidate process nearly split us apart.  We hadn’t realized we were so divided, and we don’t even yet know what we’re divided about.  But we are all discouraged and tired.  We are sort of like a dry, brown lump just now.

So, JR and I will bring our skills and experience as mediation counselors, and begin the journey toward resurrection and healing.  As we talk with individuals, and eventually with the whole congregation, we will discover each one of us has our fears, our hopes, our stories, and we will once again learn to know and to trust each other.  That is my hope and my prayer.

As we start to listen to each other, as Truth comes into the Light, growth and healing can begin.  We know that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Life. This tender life will need to be nurtured by the soil of honesty, humility, commitment, confession and prayer; then our tired root can again begin to stir.  It will take courageous work on everyone’s part, and a willingness to be a living and active part of a community of faith on a journey together, but growth and healing will come.  By hearing  and knowing each other, unity and trust will again take root, and in its time we can expect to embrace a glorious bloom, strengthened and vigorous.  We will be ready to embark on a new search for our new pastor, and be ready to bless our world!

Heading out onto this unmarked and uncertain pathway, I am glad to have my little amaryllis pot on the window sill.  It reminds me of the quiet promise of the steadfast journey toward resurrection and newness of LIFE.

vintage-amaryllis

PS:  Would you please do me a favor and let me know if you see an advertisement on this site….  WordPress has started randomly posting ads…

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I’m fretting about my lavender.  This has not been a typical winter, and I don’t even need my high boots to walk through the garden, let alone snowshoes, which by this time of the season are, normally, pretty much de rigueur.  These temps and snowfall seem to belong, maybe, in North Carolina, or perhaps Connecticut, but certainly not Vermont.  By now, it should be warmer in my freezer than outdoors, and I should require snowshoes to fill the bird feeders, and my parka should have its big furry hood zippered on for the winter.  But none of that has been necessary so far.  There are only a few inches of snow on the ground, and the temperatures will get above freezing again today and tomorrow, and for the rest of the week.  For the sake of my lavender, I hope things change…. I hope REAL winter comes soon.

Deep snow cover and consistent cold temperatures (by cold, I mean below freezing) are necessary to keep the lavender, and other non-zone-4- hardy plants, from heaving their roots.  Without the protection of a good layer of snow, if the ground begins to thaw and then re-freezes, and maybe does that several times, the roots of non-hardy plants will loosen in the soil and the nutrients will be pulled up into the thawed stems.  By spring the plant will likely be dead.  In my zone, it’s a good rule-of-thumb to cover these non-hardy plants with leaves or pine branches once the ground first freezes, but I have come to rely on, besides finding the best protected spot for my lavender, our winter weather to do the job for me.   I’ve lost many lavender plants over the years, but this one has survived, grown big and sprawly and generous, and I love it.  So, this year, with no winter so far to speak of, I’m worried about my lavender.

early morning thornbush

Once, as a young girl, some small grief had me undone, it seemed, to the depth and core of my being.  I don’t remember the incident, I wish I did, but it was some matter of injustice I’m sure.  I was a sensitive child (exquisitely sensitive, I now say…) and was deeply troubled by things that weren’t right.  My father found me weeping — I would go into his study and curl up in his big leather chair when I needed a good cry — and he did what he usually did when he found me there.  He simply sat quietly next to me and didn’t say a word.  Sometimes he would stroke my head, but not very often.  Mostly he just sat, as if he already understood.  When my shoulders stopped heaving and the sobs turned to heavy sighs, he would only say, “are you better now?” and his strength and warmth and kindness and the faint smell of his pipe tobacco would seem like the best hug in the world, and then I was okay again to go back out and face the world.

But this one time, I was aware of how keenly I was upset; and I recognized that my siblings and classmates, well, everybody else for that matter,  didn’t seem to ever become as thoroughly distressed as I often did.  Something must be wrong with me, I figured.  Something broken. This I remember: I wailed,  Daddy, how come I get like this??

My father could be a fierce person, very scary.  I didn’t always recognize his love, but I think I always recognized his wisdom. This time, his answer was gentle.   Because you have a deep soul, he said.  You feel everything more deeply.  It is not a bad thing, because it means you can feel joy more deeply too.  And I knew he was right.  He took me to the window, and we looked out on the bare winter trees and the snow on the ground, and the gray winter sky.  He said to me,  It is winter now,  cold and dark.  But summer will always come.   There are many seasons, but there is only one sun.  You may feel the depths of many things, but you have only one heart to feel them with. 

For my lavender, a good winter is necessary for strong blooms in the coming summer.  I wish us all the joy of blooming.

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was within me an invincible summer.”  Albert Camus.

in my backyard, winter as it should be...

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Well, here I am musing about weeds again.  Sitting in the soil in the early morning while the catbird chatters away in the top of the oak tree and the daddy bluebird explores the bird house at the far end of the garden– weeding becomes a meditative chore for me.

Now, I’ve been called a “Loony” and “Nuts” about weeding and JR might chime in with “OCD”….  I do take my time.  Some years ago, my women’s morning Bible Study decided to meet at our different homes during the summer, and stay to work together out in our flower beds.  While the other women zipped through a section of someone’s perennial garden, I plunked myself down and thoughtfully and slowly pulled out each individual stray, unwanted sprout of clover or dandelion with my fingertips, careful to extract the entire root.  This is an inefficient way to get things done if what you want is a tidy-looking garden in a short amount of time so you can move on to other chores.  But  to me, it feels like an intimate encounter with the earth and what springs from the earth.  It’s the way that I weed, and I laughed at myself along with the others at what little comparable progress I made.  But I was thorough 🙂

So, musing in the morning, sitting in the dirt with my weed bucket by my side, I wonder about weeds.  If a newly germinated sprout is nipped off at ground level, that is usually the end of it.  Without its leaves to produce sugars for the newly forming roots, the the tender new white root will wither.  But with established roots which have stored nutrients, nipping off what shows above ground only strengthens the root to produce more shoots, and the weed grows stronger.  We think we’re weeding when we pull off the visible shoots, and once the green is gone, imagine we are weed-free.  We all know that roots exist, but it’s easy to forget about what we can’t actually see.

[Radish seeds sprouting…  WARNING:  Banjo music…]

Do you see where I’m going with this?  I’m thinking about establishing good habits as well as eliminating bad ones.  A strong plant needs both strong roots and healthy leaves.  Down in the dark dirt, it takes awhile for fragile new growth cells to mature into hardened roots capable of sustaining the top growth.  While that is happening, the visible leaves are delicate and the life of the plant is vulnerable.  Tamper with the young sprout too much and you’ll need to start over with a new seed.  Or, by not carefully protecting and nourishing a new “good’ habit, we risk never developing the rootedness it needs to take hold in our life.

I’m trying to develop a habit of reading and praying a psalm every night before I fall asleep.  For now, I need to be consciously deliberate to make this choice each night, whether I feel like it or not.  By protecting this tender new “leaf”, I’m allowing the roots to form and become a steady part of my life.  I like how Jacques Maritain (1882-1973 — French Catholic philosopher I was introduced to in college) characterizes the notion of Habit in his obscure and esoteric book Art and Scholasticism“Habits are interior growths of spontaneous life…”  He describes it as an attitude or quality of mind; ” a virtue which triumphs over the original indetermination of the intellective faculty…”  In other words, by intentionally and repeatedly cultivating a certain activity, it becomes a part of one’s being.

In the same way, we can let bad habits take hold by forgetting about their roots, which are continually  maturing in the dark, while we don’t bother too much about the little leaves.  If we nip a new “bad” habit in the bud, as it were, the root may never gain a foot-hold.  But if we ignore what is sprouting, the root grows deeper.  Once a bad habit is established, we will need to deal with the root if we are to eliminate it completely; trying to pluck off “leaves” will never do the trick.  This is the essence of true repentance, to bring the root of our motivation up into Christ’s light.

As I prepare to go sit in the dirt again today, I consider:  What gardener wouldn’t love a weed-free garden!  Well, it takes work.  And with diligence, I can hope my gardens might be mostly weed-free 🙂

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