Easter planting. It might be too early; the last frost date isn't for another few weeks, and anything can happen in an Indiana spring. But the forecast is sunny and warm for the next several days, and it seemed like a shame to waste all that good sunshine. Plus, at the library yesterday, I discovered that you can check out packets of seeds! I find this so delightfully wholesome, so unnecessarily good, that it makes me love libraries even more than I already do.
So this afternoon, we turned the soil and pulled up the winter weeds, and then I made little row markers out of popsicle sticks, and planted sunflowers and snap peas and lettuce and spinach. It's optimistic, maybe, but I think you have to be optimistic to be a gardener. To tuck tiny seeds into the dark soil and trust that the sunshine and water will do their thing.
I've always been taken with the way John's gospel tells the story: Mary, outside the empty tomb, sees Jesus and mistakes him for the gardener. She could tell he knew something about dark places and new life and hope.
Today, in our garden, I discovered a brussels sprout plant that I'd half-heartedly planted last fall, not optimistic at all about its chances. I'd long since given it up, once the snow fell and the ground froze. But there it is, still, boldly standing in the middle of the empty garden, soaking up the sun, signs of new growth in the center of its leaves.
I don't know whether it will actually produce sprouts, or what kind of timeline its on. But I dare not be anything but hopeful, because Easter stories are everywhere.
A group of my coworkers got together last week for a covid-style retirement send off: a car parade complete with signs and balloons, followed by a short gift presentation in the driveway.
It was the first time I’d seen most of them in person in almost a year, though they show up on my computer screen several times a week, and I underestimated how much I’d missing them. Here they were, in the flesh, embodied, three-dimensional people. We waved and elbow-bumped and air-hugged.
Someone made a joke and we all laughed, and the sound of it took me by surprise. I don’t know when I was last in a group of people who were laughing, the sound only muted by our masks and not by the sporadic audio of Zoom. The melody of it was as good for the soul as the hugs we couldn’t share.
Had it been October instead of February, we would have lingered in the driveway, smiling with our eyes and appreciating each other. But it was cold and starting to snow, and so we said good-bye and hurried back to our cars and our computer screens.
We slip out of the house before dawn, into the cold morning air. The neighborhood is still and the sky is clear so we can see what we've come for: Orion presiding majestically over the southern sky, the three stars of his belt in a perfect line. He has spent the entire night crossing the heavens, and he is about to slip behind the trees to the west, heading on to distant skies before the sun arrives in the east. And there is Leo, just behind him, four tiny white dots that somehow look like a lion. And the big dipper, ursa major, a giant ladle scooping out the liquid darkness of the sky.
It is the season when the church speaks of waiting, of watching for the light to come and banish the darkness. At night we read Wombat Divine, about the wombat who wants to be in the Christmas pageant but can't find the right part until he gets called on to play Jesus. We read A Wish for Wings that Work, a story about the impossible becoming possible. We read Someone's Coming to our House: "Who is coming to our house? Someone, someone, whispers Mouse." We light candles at dinner each night to ward off the night.
But the stars in Orion's belt, the stars that outline the lion - these are not lights that chase the darkness away. These are lights that live in the darkness, that make the darkness come alive with legend and myth. These are lights that tell a story. If it weren't for the darkness, we would miss the light.
A conversation about a school art project leads us on a circuitous internet search that ends at a map of Detroit. It turns out that I remember, somewhere in the depths of my mind where such things are stored, the street address of both my grandparents' homes. It has been decades since they lived there, and yet, as soon as I zoom in and switch to street view, I know exactly where I am.
Both houses - the one in Detroit, and the one just a few map-clicks away in Ohio - are more run down that I remember, the trees in front of them bigger. But there is the porch where my grandmother served us ice cream in cones, and the side drive that sidles up to the house, the doorway that leads down to the basement where my grandfather's darkroom was. There is the hill we ran up and down, there is the long stairway up to the front door. A few clicks more and we are down the block at the school where we climbed the stone wall on long afternoons before heading back to the house that always smelled like fried chicken.