If the sun hadn’t glanced off the field as I walked to town, I’d have missed it. But it did. Condensation + Sunlight + Vantage Point = Illumination.
At first, I saw only the sparkling. Then, the amazing variation in color and form. Finally, abundant and sacred life with its own purpose. A whole world of wonder at my feet that asks of me nothing but attention.
Soon, the winter will bury the field in snow, and these blades will crumble into the soil, making way for next year’s growth. It won’t last, just as my own life won’t. But isn’t it amazing? And isn’t it enough?
All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, the flower falls, but the world of the Lord endures forever. I Peter 1:24-25
Friday, I drove from Manchester Center (Vermont) to New Durham (New Hampshire). The roads started looking familiar thirty miles before arriving on Birch Hill. This isn’t surprising: I lived on Birch Hill from seventh grade well into my college years. It’s been over thirty years since I called Birch Hill home, but it still feels like coming home whenever I’m on it.
Saturday, I made the drive from New Durham to Wareham (Massachusetts). Once the treads hit Route 24, I was in home territory. This isn’t surprising: I’ve spent the past twenty years there. It’s where my children grew up, and where my husband and I found life-giving work and play.
Today, I made the drive from Wareham to Manchester Center (Vermont). When I hit Route 11, the landscape and houses started looking familiar. I got a feeling of getting close to home. This is surprising: I’ve only lived in Manchester since mid-September. It’s where people will come to visit me, and where I will find life-giving work and play in the coming years.
I’ve had other places I’ve called home, and felt that same love deep in my bones when I drove back there. But I’ve never had that feeling of homecoming for three different places in a matter of a couple of days and a couple hundred miles. I can’t say why this moves me so, but it does. To find a single place in the world to call home is a blessing. I suspect finding more than one is catching a glimpse of this world’s true nature: holy and infused with love.
The chive plant came from the library learning garden – originally from seeds I planted in 2002. It’s new home has a view of the Green Mountains. The Day Lilies moved from Kingston, Massachusetts, leaving a beautifully landscaped side yard to bring color and joy to the front walk of the rectory in the coming Spring. In a week, the heirloom irises that originated in a great-grandfather’s Cape Cod garden will take up residence around the two lamp posts – making a hundred year stop in Sandwich and Wareham along the way. If perennials could talk, how many could tell such travel tales?
I inherited a whole banking of perennials when I settled in Wareham, and I’ve sent cuttings from most all of them out into the wide world to grace the many gardens of friends, family, and strangers. The love and hard work of gardeners past and present grow in beauty and grace in the plot of land I call home, just as my love and hard work has gone far beyond my little world. From one place to another, from one gardener to another, the bounty of the earth binds me to so many others. Through space and time, life flows. I’m just a small part of the ongoing blessing of creation.
[Many thanks to Debbie Hill for the Day Lilies, Jeanne Condon Pena for the Irises, and Alice Atkins for a whole banking of plants.]
The drill is still in Wareham, along with the level. The spade and my garden bag are here. That’s not a problem until I have a specific task that needs doing – hanging a curtain rod here in Vermont or digging up bulbs there in Massachusetts. So the choice is to buy a second set of supplies or wait until the next trip to get the right tools in the right place. I’d rather not have two of everything, so the tasks will have to wait until the next time I travel from one house to the other. Being in two places at once, calling two places home, has its challenges.
The same is true of my inner life. When I let my mind and spirit wander from one idea to another, when I skip centering my whole self, I find myself without the tools I need to live a life that values God and Neighbor over convenience and distraction. When I move through the daily tasks with my mind in another place, I appreciate neither activity nor thought. Trying to be in two places at once I cannot find either. It’s a peculiar way to get lost. I know the way home, of course; I just have to set my feet on a single path and walk. God and neighbor are still at the path’s end. Along with my whole self.
I lift my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come?Psalm 121:1, NRSV
In the Bible of my childhood, the old King James, Psalm 121:1 wasn’t a question, but a statement: I lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. It wasn’t until I was well into my 20’s that I learned it was a grammatical error. Correcting the punctuation moved it from an affirmation of faith and trust to an uncertain questioning. I look to the hills not because I know the source of my help, but because I can’t see it. It’s hidden in a fog that I cannot penetrate, and I am looking for an answer that has yet to appear. In that time and place of mystery and uncertainty, I can only wait and hope that such an answer will appear. And it does:
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.
Psalm 121:2-8, NRSV
The older I get, the happier I am to live with the questioning version. There have been so many times that I’ve needed to ask this very question, and the psalm gave me the words of faith to do just that.
It’s been five weeks since I moved to Vermont, but I’ve spent almost half of that time elsewhere. Medical appointments, car troubles, and home improvements have returned me to Wareham more than I expected. It’s been wonderful in some ways, and frustrating in others – being pulled in more than one direction brings some difficulties even as it keeps me connected to more than one place. I’ve spent time with my sons and many friends, but I long to get settled into my new home. So I headed back to Vermont on Friday morning, via Lakes Region, New Hampshire; for an extra couple of hours travel time, I could drop in on my mother and sister in New Durham.
Getting from New Durham to Manchester Center takes almost the same amount of time as going from Wareham to New Durham – but it’s a shorter distance. There are major highways connecting SouthCoast Massachusetts to Lakes Region, New Hampshire, but not so much from New Durham to Manchester Center. It’s a lot of 35mph zones, sharp turns, and small towns. In typical New England fashion, you can’t get there(directly) from here.
My starting point was the same road that I learned to drive on, my ending point the town I now call home. Between the two, a few busy highways and a lot of back roads. Craft fairs, hiking trails, and town centers dotted the drive through the Fall foliage. Other than a brief pass by Manchester exits, I didn’t drive on any major routes. Many houses, few gas and radio stations. It took almost three hours to get from one small town in New Hampshire to another small town in Vermont.
Some might consider that a waste of time, going from one small place to another with no direct route in between. But I see it more as a metaphor for the spiritual life. There are no direct and easily identified routes, and there are many blind turns along the way. What seems like a road going nowhere is the only way to get from here to there. It takes time and effort, and it’s damn inconvenient at times. But that’s one of the major truths: convenience and speed aren’t the point or the destination. Getting home is.
In Wareham, it was cranberry bogs. Here in Manchester, it’s apple orchards. So when my son and his beloved decided to go apple picking yesterday, I went along. It was the perfect day for it – crisp air, blue skies, and foliage at its best providing the backdrop. Mad Tom’s Orchard in East Dorset had everything I could hope for – multiple varieties of apples, cider, and fresh cider donuts. The owners were friendly and informative, and the map of the orchard helpful.
Since this is my first Vermont apple picking experience, I picked enough to make Vermont applesauce. It’s my way of honoring the work of the local farmers and enjoying the fruits of their labors through Spring. It’s also my way of participating in the time-honored tradition of canning; it’s economical as well as an enjoyable way to spend a few hours.
For many years, I canned cranberries – the local harvest where I lived for twenty years. Every time I opened a jar of cranberries, I was grateful for the place I called home. It was a wonderful way to be rooted in that seacoast community. Putting up applesauce will be more of a promise – a promise to claim this new place, and let this mountain town claim me as its own. Preserving is a statement: I’m not a tourist here. I’m a local.
The whisk isn’t to the right of the stove top, the bowls are in cupboards rather than on a shelf, and most of my baking ingredients are on a lazy Susan in a low cupboard. Everything takes a bit more time than it did in my old kitchen. I know that it’s a temporary issue, but it vexes me.
The same thing happened when I returned to my home in Massachusetts. A new fridge and countertop dishwasher has changed the layout of the space, and utensils and ingredients have been relocated to incorporate the difference. The issue isn’t in either kitchen, but in my own expectation that things remain unchanged. Such small differences in the grand scheme of things – inconveniences, not true hardships.
Until I stop seeing the new spaces as a distorted version of a previous arrangement, I won’t really see them for what they are or what they could be: opportunities to make putting food on the table a new adventure. And a small glimpse of a grand truth: all things change in this ever-expanding, God created universe. I can marvel at it, or resist it. My choice.
I saw it because I was giving the hall bathroom a deep cleaning – pulling the storage shelves out for a hose-down, scrubbing tub and sinks, wiping down vanity drawers and cupboard space, and washing the window. It appeared as I began cleaning the window.
I ran down the stairs and out onto the back porch, hoping to get a glimpse without a screen in the way. It lasted mere seconds. Had I been scrubbing the tub instead of washing the window, I’d have missed it entirely. Timing may not be everything, but it’s something. The beauty of the earth waits for no one.
I returned to my cleaning. Once it was done, I sat down on the back porch. Rain plinked on the roof overhead. Sparrows darted under the porch, and a woodpecker perched on the fence. Ordinary, extraordinarily beautiful life surrounded me – not the rare rainbow kind, but the all-around-me-all-the-time variety. I just needed to look and listen. Then this appeared:
Too big for me to get in a single glance or picture, this second bow suddenly appeared. Not a sign that God will never again flood the earth, but a wonder that reminds me to look and listen. Eyes to see, ears to hear, a little time and attention are all you and I need. Signs and wonders are everywhere.
Walking into town from home looks a little different than it did before the move. There are no sidewalks for most of the way, but not much in the way of traffic, either. It’s noticeably downhill, and significantly uphill on the return trek. There’s no way to ignore that I’ve moved from coastal Massachusetts to the Vermont mountains.
I don’t know the people who live in the houses I pass as I walk, but we share the road to town. We are connected by that common path, and by the town at the end of it. We share this time and place, strangers related by era and address. I don’t know what adventures I’ll share with these new neighbors-in-time-and-place, but I know that their lives are sacred if yet unknown to me. And that’s quite enough for now.