Into the Trees

Well, it’s snowing. I suggested we begin the season over again and celebrate Christmas this upcoming weekend, but my idea was soundly kiboshed. We will continue to endure wintry weather—without gingerbread and eggnog.

It is an exasperating thing to find the flurries enchanting, even as I wish they would melt before touching ground. But they aren’t melting. In truth, the spiky green weeds I tread upon this Sunday—then free from snow to pop their little heads into the world—are no longer visible. Still, I will grant that the acres surrounding the house remain a beautiful getaway. Two days past I went further than I ever had before. Led by the eldest boy, defying the doleful sky above and the nip in the air, I journeyed into the trees.

Beyond the brook, only a humble trickle now, is the hardwood, where the maples and the evergreens grow close as if to comfort each other there in the place where wild animals leave their prints. And yet we saw no fox, no coyote, no rabbit dashing over fallen, rotting logs. No birds even to ease the silence. Only our voices and our footsteps, the latter sometimes sinking deeper than our boots allowed.

Redder than the dirt on this island were the fragmenting innards that spilled from a stump, and pale as lemon slices were the leaves that clung resolutely to a sapling. I paused now and then to touch the warped limb of a tree, wondering what made it grow so, loving the emerald moss that ages even the youngest tree. The boy and I appreciated those glades among the tallest trees that would shelter a tent and campfire quite nicely, dreaming of the summer that may never come.

Oh, I shouldn’t write such things. I hold high hopes that this spring will restore its pride and overcome this cold streak. Into the trees I will soon return—but to cross a wider brook. And eventually to pick the lovely Lady’s Slipper. That’s the plan anyway.

Soft Touch

When the little one yanked her older sister’s hair, I pulled her away, chiding, “No, you can’t do that.” Baby crumpled to the carpet in tears, utterly devastated. I let her be, but she continued to sob. Finally, I gathered her into my arms and stepped outside onto the veranda. Instantly, she quieted, but she continued to shudder every few moments with those hiccups that mean the child has indeed been utterly devastated. With her head resting against my shoulder, we were quiet together. I did not stroke her hair or coo soothing words—I simply swayed gently from side to side. This little one, who is rarely still long enough to be cuddled, did not push away or straighten her body.

In the ebbing sunlight, I experienced the power of the maternal heart—that soft touch that no man can give quite like a woman can. Baby is not my own, not flesh of my flesh, but in that moment, I could almost believe she was.

After a few minutes, I walked to the edge of the veranda, sat, and held her in my lap. We gazed out at the woods, the dimpled snow, the ravens that flapped above the treetops to flash their wings against the pale blue sky. Still, I made no sound. And she too remained quiet, dark lashes blinking, blinking, as she looked about, taking in the melting world. Bare toes warmed by the sun, she leaned against my arms, studying the water drip-dripping from the downspout into the flattened grass below our feet.

Eventually she rose from my lap and toddled to the weathered steps where we again sat, only this time to chuck crystalline snow as far as we could (not far), our fingers turning red. If a robin whipped by, or a raven cried from the highest branch, we paused to study it. A breeze did not stir. But the draw toward motherhood was indeed stirring in my soul.

Often I feel wholly inadequate to give what a child needs . . . but it is in those moments that, if I acknowledge my inadequacy and surrender, He who knows the childlike heart best rises up in me—and I am able to give what I don’t have. I can cradle with His arms. Yes, I think that must be how a parent loves, day after day, year after year.

I pray I will one day find myself sitting on my own veranda, contemplating simple beauty with my little one.

Crushing Weight

After observing the debate between the Catholic and the atheist at the university, I returned home—only to discover that I was locked from the house, my hosts off to attend a celebration. A little smile crept onto my face, and I found myself crawling into the truck’s bed and then onto its rain-sprinkled roof. I laid back and crossed my ankles. Above was the night sky, thick with clouds, but I sensed the galaxies beyond the veil.

I thought about the atheist and his belief that the universe did not come from God, and I felt the emptiness in that—I felt how crushing the weight of the universe could be without a God to explain its purpose. Why this world? Why us if not Him? Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes.

Around me the woods were melting, releasing the tangy fragrance of the pines. Every tree begins with a seed. Indeed, everything natural begins with something—this we have observed. Every creature has a father and a mother. Every landslide begins with one stone shifting. Every effect has a cause, and this pattern can be traced back into infinity. But infinity itself has no cause by definition, thus rendering it unnatural—or rather, supernatural. What is infinity, then, but existence sustained by He who is eternal?

I think the atheist must have a comeback, but in the end . . . what cannot be disputed is that innate desire in every human heart to be satisfied, to be fulfilled. Why? I’m thinking it’s because that desire was placed there by God, to be satisfied by God, who is supernatural.

Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,

who was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. 

Amen.

A Farm to Love

When I stepped into the barn, my eyes began to sting—but it was not from that pungent, earthy smell known to animals, but from that unshakable thing in me that loves the lifestyle that dances with creation. A farm. My heart squeezed when I saw the gray-and-white cat, and I might have cried with happiness were children not gathered about me. Silly me, yes? But, oh, how I love you, cat. And I would sit with you in the straw, sheep and goats, if I were not wearing a dress. May I stroke your silken neck, dear cow? Chickens, I love you less than the others, but I will admit that your clucking and ruffling feathers is something like music (to my ears anyhow).

A farm to love. Milk from a Jersey cow, speckled brown eggs from hens, vegetables from the garden, berries from the woods. A rope swing in the barn, a rocking chair beneath the eaves, a braided rug on creaky walnut-stained floorboards. Ay yi yi, I have the horse, but not the pasture; the blue-and-white dishes, but not the cupboards; the will, but not the means. And so my little place in the country remains a little getaway in my mind.

Not Made for Tea

Is it strange that something in me is a little sad that I no longer must spurn tea, now that Lent is over? Perhaps less strange upon some reflection.

Why do we fast in the first place? It is to sever attachments to other gods, yes, but the heart of fasting is to become more attached to God himself. How is this accomplished by giving up tea, coffee, chocolate, or whatever else? When we sacrifice, we suffer, and when we suffer, we seek consolation. Deprivation craves satiation. When you cannot turn to tea, you must turn to something else, you must turn inward, inward to God.

And I think that explains my sadness—because during Lent my soul drew closer to its Maker. Under His wing, against His breast, I am warm—as I should be always. Which leads me to the point that sacrifices must, absolutely must, extend beyond Lent, or a soul will not draw nearer the Lord. Lent, as a friend told me, is a detox, a time to cleanse one’s system from toxins—afterward you must begin a lifestyle that is “healthy”, otherwise detoxing is without lasting purpose. Sacrifice—suffering—is not optional for the Christian if we wish to be healthy in spirit. Without sacrifice, there is no sanctity. Without sanctity, who are we but of the world? And we were not made for this world but for the next.

I was not made for tea but for Truth.

A Marshmallow Bunny

I wish I had something more profound to write today other than that when I smelled a marshmallow bunny, I was instantly returned to my childhood and nearly cried for homesickness. And I think that that was my cross to carry this Lent: not being with my family. Mistake me not, here on the island is where I am called to be. And the Triduum was beautiful, especially the candlelit vigil in the looming basilica, where I found myself absorbed by the readings that span history—and by the choir that filled the sanctuary with their harmonies. Beautiful too was the cloudless sky Easter Sunday morning, and the joy we shared throughout the day as we played and cooked and ate together. And my hosts were sweet to gift me with my favorite tea (Cream of Earl Grey) and dark chocolate, all I desired in the face of the children’s weighty chocolate bunnies and copious jellybeans. Yes, it was a good Triduum. But it wasn’t home.

And I believe in this homesickness, because I believe in the Resurrection. Every cross, if carried to the end, is rewarded by life everlasting. Would we be Christian if it were otherwise? This is my hope.

Christ is risen.

Universe

Planet Earth is suspended just where it should be in the universe. Within this little world, clouds form in the atmosphere, darkening until they must release what was never theirs to keep. Where man lives, the soil drinks, and where man toils, the soil gives. A vine creeps up, and one day, human hands come to pluck the fruit and bleed it into wine. Wheat blankets the land, growing golden at harvest—as golden as the bread it will become. When the bread and wine are placed on an altar and offered to Heaven . . . He who created the universe emerges. And I am finally coming to understood how magnificent this miracle truly is.

Surrounded by at least fifteen other young women, I knelt before the exposed Eucharist in a small but beautiful Adoration chapel, and we sang to Him in the night. Princesses adoring their King. I sensed that as we were captivated by Him, He was captivated by us. While everything else seems to be spinning into chaos, departing from its true purpose, there we were, suspended just where we should be in the universe.

Kindred Spirits

I asked God to give me at least one kindred spirit here on the island. Well, I’ve discovered something “kindred” in at least four young adults already—and unexpectedly in a blue-eyed, flaxen-haired girl. Our connection? Horses. Again and again God floors me with His blessings. Who am I that He would go all out? I am loved, that is all I know.

Today I snowshoed with two of my new friends. Ducking under snow-crusted evergreen boughs, chucking snowballs, gasping at the orange blaze of a fox, we wound our way through a tranquil treed segment in Charlottetown. Decked only in sweaters and light gloves, we found the blue day a perfect beginning to spring, often throwing our heads back to sigh in delight. I’ve been told, however, that it is the calm before the storm—as it is before every storm on this island. Consolation before desolation. Ah, well, enjoy the calm while it lasts, and then break out the hot drinks when the ice crystals descend to gust against the window panes. The approaching storm has not yet arrived, but soon. And I doubt it is the last.

We are all aching to know summer again—but I confess I do not mind having dropped into this faraway world while it is overflowing with snow. Because it means I will journey with these people from season to season, as the snow recedes, as the mud forms, as the grass grows green, as the flowers peep forth. And when we find ourselves skipping on a beach for the first time, we will share and understand each other’s joy.

Storm Beyond, Fire Within

A friend called me a chameleon at heart, and I think I may be, because already I feel comfortable in this home, with this family. They are good souls, very kind to me, down to the youngest with her pigtails and thoughtful chocolate-brown eyes. We’ve laughed together, prayed and sung together, traded recipes and stories. I imagine they will begin to feel like my own kin as the weeks pass.

It is a charming, light-filled home, and I love the sanctuary that is my bedroom, but how I wish to venture beyond these walls into the woods. And yet storm upon storm has buried the island in snow, and my boots are only shin-high. If my suitcase were bigger, I would have packed the clothing required to head out into the blustering snow and romp with the little ones. As it is, I must await the melt that will come—I await wildflowers. I am told we will be on the beaches in sweaters as soon as possible.

Until then, I play with the children, help them with their school, sweep the floor, change the baby’s diaper, read by the wood-stove, and do whatever else is necessary in the moment. Sometimes this involves brewing coffee.

Nests

For a few desperate moments, I was an eaglet, safe in the dark beneath their wings. What am I, that I cling to the nest, even as my lungs burn to taste the air above the peaks?

I am young. Time will one day see me clutching my own child in my arms, crying into her hair. Until then, I am building my own nest. And the first twigs have been found not in some distant land, but have been given to me from home. They are the tears that say I love you, and so I let you go.