I recently discovered that my house is surrounded by azaleas.
I came to this brilliant conclusion because spring arrived (our first in this new home), and the bushes I’d never really noticed turned brilliant pink and flowery almost overnight.
Next to the extravagance of these azaleas the flower beds in the front of our house suddenly looked sparse. There were big empty spots, and I worried about finding time to purchase and plant perennials. My days are overfull as it is just making snacks for children. In the small spaces of time when I am not making snacks, I am trying to get the new vegetable garden planted.
That’s when I noticed the fiddlehead ferns. Well, not the ferns, just the fiddleheads, really. It looked as if bright green violins had begun sprouting all around the azaleas.
I vaguely remembered seeing ferns when we moved in late last summer. I realized I could probably hold off on planting. I could wait and be surprised. Who knew what else might emerge.
Like the dogwood tree. Also, a second dogwood tree. Apparently, I can’t identify most trees unless it’s spring and they are flowering. There’s also a crabapple in the corner I’d never noticed. And roses. So many roses are tucked along the fence line, but I had no idea how many there were until I went around inspecting every square inch for poison ivy.
For me, this first spring is all about surprise. My eyes are wide-open, and I have begun expecting hidden wonders to reveal themselves at every turn.
It has reminded me of the birth of my fourth baby, Elsa Spring. When I first looked at her she felt both familiar and utterly surprising. I loved her, she belonged to me, but I did not know her. She would reveal herself to me only in time. Anticipating that slow revelation carried me through so many heavy, hard newborn days.
I hardly know this place, but it is home. We are planting trees and putting down roots (quite literally), and the horizon of our dreams is farther out than we have ever seen it.
When I imagine teenagers, they are slipping through these bedroom windows to sun themselves on the roof of the porch. When I imagine weddings, I picture them here beneath the avenue of maple trees. When I consider grandchildren, I see them playing beneath the apple trees that are, today, more like apple sticks.
Until this spring, home meant familiar and comfortable. The place you know so well you no longer see it.
I’m discovering that home might be familiar and surprising. Our true home is not the place we no longer see, but the place (or state of mind?) that keeps us wide awake with wonder.
Home is where we expect good things. Home is where we say, with shining eyes and hope in our hearts, What next? What next? Is there more?
And there is always more.
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now … Come further up, come further in!”
– C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
Spring has finally come to Maplehurst, and we are living in a watercolor world. Trees are smudged with the almost-neon green of new buds. The ground is blurred by the purple and white of wild violets. Move your head too quickly, and the brilliant yellow of the dandelions might just look like a lightning strike.
For several days, I have noticed a spot of garish orangey-red near the laundry room steps. I assumed it was a child’s toy. Something awful and plastic. Today, I realized it was a patch of tulips striped orange and yellow. They have large, black polka-dots in their middles. They are the tackiest flowers I have ever seen, more like circus clowns than plants. These tulips, bursting out near the propane tank, prove spring does, in fact, have a sense of humor.
I was twenty-one before I witnessed a real spring, the kind that only comes after a long, cold winter. We were living near Washington D.C.. I had never seen redbuds and forsythia, cherry blossoms and tulips. And the dogwoods. Oh, the dogwoods.
I’d been raised by a farmer-turned-gardener, but I’d never paid much attention to plants. That first spring, something woke up in my twenty-one-year-old soul, and I’ve been paying attention to plants ever since.
On a walk to see the cherry blossoms near the Jefferson Memorial that spring, I noticed a spectacular flowering tree. It looked as if a hundred thousand delicate, pink-winged birds had come to rest on its branches. I took a closer look at the flowers, and I knew they resembled magnolia blooms.
I may not have paid much attention to Texas flora beyond the justifiably famous bluebonnets, but I, like any southern girl, knew that magnolias never lost their dark, glossy green leaves. I also knew that magnolia blooms are pure white, as big (or bigger) than a baby’s head, and they merely dot the tree, like ornaments placed just so.
In other words, this brilliant pink explosion of a tree could not be a magnolia.
But it was. That year, that first spring, I learned the difference between the south’s evergreen magnolias and the deciduous varieties grown farther north. I learned the difference, and I chased it.
After two years in Virginia, it was time to choose a graduate school. I took one look at the blooming pink magnolias lined up against the gothic grey of quadrangle walls and knew I’d be moving to Chicago.
After Chicago, I lived for two years in a Florida house with an evergreen magnolia centered proudly in the front yard. It was lovely, yes, but it reminded me that I was living in an eddy. My life had turned backwards and sideways. For two years, I had no spring.
Nine months ago, we moved to Pennsylvania, to this Victorian farmhouse called Maplehurst. I knew the old tree planted north of our front porch (a tree that must be as old as the house itself) was a magnolia. A deciduous magnolia. The largest I have ever seen.
And I’ve been waiting.
Waiting for God to keep his promises, waiting for life to get a little easier, waiting for spring – spring like we haven’t seen for three years – to come.
This was waiting as it is meant to be. Waiting with hope. Waiting with full expectation. This, not because I’ve finally mastered the spiritual discipline of waiting, but only because I have lived through a few winters, and I have seen them all end.
I have been waiting with eyes wide open because I could see the tree always outside my window. I knew what it had in store for me because I’ve seen it before.
But never this big.
Never this beautiful.
Never this good.
“Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come.”
Song of Songs 2: 12