Out in the rain a world is growing green, On half the trees quick buds are seen Where glued-up buds have been. Out in the rain God’s Acre stretches green, Its harvest quick tho’ still unseen: For there the Life hath been.
If Christ hath died His brethren well may die, Sing in the gate of death, lay by This life without a sigh: For Christ hath died and good it is to die; To sleep when so He lays us by, Then wake without a sigh.
Yea, Christ hath died, yea, Christ is risen again: Wherefore both life and death grow plain To us who wax and wane; For Christ Who rose shall die no more again: Amen: till He makes all things plain Let us wax on and wane. ~Christina Rossetti “Easter Monday”
On this day after Easter, this Easter Monday, we can too quickly settle back to routine as if nothing special happened. This was not the case when Jesus would appear in a room of people, joining others walking on a road, cooking breakfast for His friends by the lake.
So we look for Him to make things plain to us: we watch the waxing and waning of the seasons, of the living and dying around us, indeed, our own waxing and waning, living and dying. The transformation from death to life yesterday is everywhere we look, if we look.
The huge chestnut tree in our front yard is filled with such chrysalises of metamorphosis, from bud to green-winged butterfly leaf.
From bristly foliage you fell complete, polished wood, gleaming mahogany, as perfect as a violin newly born of the treetops, that falling offers its sealed-in gifts, the hidden sweetness that grew in secret amid birds and leaves, a model of form, kin to wood and flour, an oval instrument that holds within it intact delight, an edible rose. In the heights you abandoned the sea-urchin burr that parted its spines in the light of the chestnut tree; through that slit you glimpsed the world, birds bursting with syllables, starry dew below, the heads of boys and girls, grasses stirring restlessly, smoke rising, rising. You made your decision, chestnut, and leaped to earth, burnished and ready, firm and smooth as the small breasts of the islands of America. You fell, you struck the ground, but nothing happened, the grass still stirred, the old chestnut sighed with the mouths of a forest of trees, a red leaf of autumn fell, resolutely, the hours marched on across the earth. Because you are only a seed, chestnut tree, autumn, earth, water, heights, silence prepared the germ, the floury density, the maternal eyelids that buried will again open toward the heights the simple majesty of foliage, the dark damp plan of new roots, the ancient but new dimensions of another chestnut tree in the earth. ~Pablo Neruda, “Ode to a Chestnut on the Ground”
Each spring the horse chestnut tree in our front yard transforms for a week into a Renoir painting. It explodes into hundreds of bright clusters of delicate orchid-like blossoms, forming cone shaped floral candles illuminating the spreading branches. However, its setting is more peasant than romantic, as the tree stands in common company between a pine tree and a poplar lining the rural driveway into our barnyard. This is an exceedingly humble spot for a tree bedecked with foliage of such majestic lighting, its tender broad leafed branches brushed and broken by passing hay wagons and shavings trucks.
Although its graceful beauty seems more appropriate along the Seine River, during the summer it fits perfectly in its spot near our haybarn. Its verdant foliage provides deep cooling shade during hot sweaty days. The branches that were once lit up with scores of pink and white blossoms become leafy respite for a dusty hay crew gulping lemonade in between loads. Horses snooze in the paddocks under its shadow. Birds nest well hidden and squirrels leap from swaying branch to branch. The tree becomes sanctuary within and below.
By fall, the tree forms its fruit within unpretentious capsules covered with spines and prickles, visually spiked yet the bristles actually soft and pliable. There are few natural things so plain and homely as the buckeye horse chestnut husk. These are shed by the hundreds in autumn wind and rainstorms, and they shower down, cobbling the driveway, eventually to break apart underfoot.
Only by leaving the tree can the deep brown nut be revealed from its hiding place, its richness exposed. From exquisite bloom to shady haven to prickly husk to mahogany harvest, this chestnut tree’s changing palette needs no canvas, no frame, no museum gallery showcase. Instead its majestic exhibition is for free, right in our front yard.