Stumbling into February

“Why, what’s the matter, 
That you have such a February face, 
So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?” 
–  William Shakespeare,  Much Ado About Nothing

January was particularly dark and dank, especially last night as the month wrapped up with a deluge, flooding numerous roads in our rural county.  The beginning of February often feels like this: the conviction winter will never be finished messing with us. Our doldrums are deep; brief respite of sun and warmth too rare.

I feel it in the barn as I go about my daily routine.   The Haflingers are impatient and yearn for freedom, over-eager when handled, sometimes banging on the stall doors in their frustration at being shut in,  not understanding that the alternative is to stand outside all day in cold rain and wind.  To compensate for their confinement, I do some grooming of their thick winter coats, urging their hair to loosen and curry off in sheets over parts of their bodies, yet otherwise still clinging tight.  The horses are a motley crew right now, much like a worn ’60s shag carpet, uneven and in dire need of updating.  I prefer that no one see them like this and discourage visitors to the farm, begging people to wait a few more weeks until they (and I) are more presentable. Eventually I know the shag on my horses will come off, revealing the sheen of new short hair beneath, but when I look at myself, I’m unconvinced there is such transformation in store for me. Cranky, I  put one foot ahead of the other, get done what needs to be done, oblivious to the subtle renewal around me, refusing to believe even in the possibility.

It happened today.  Dawn broke bright and blinding and I heard the fields calling, so I heeded, climbing the hill and turning my face to the eastern light, soaking up all I could.  It was almost too much to keep my eyes open, as they are so accustomed to gray darkness. And then I stumbled across something extraordinary.

A patch of snowdrops sat blooming in an open space on our acreage, visible now only because of the brush clearing that was done last fall. Many of these little white upside down flowers were planted long ago around our house and yard, but  I had no idea they were also such a distance away, hiding underground. Yet there they’ve been, year after year, harbingers of the long-awaited spring to come in a few short weeks, though covered by the overgrowth of decades of neglect and invisible to me in my self-absorbed blindness.  I was astonished that someone, many many years ago, had carried these bulbs this far out to a place not easy to find, and planted them, hoping they might bless another soul sometime somehow.  Perhaps the spot marks a grave of a beloved pet, or perhaps it was simply a retreat of sorts, but there the blossoms had sprung from their sleep beneath the covering of years of fallen leaves and blackberry vines.

It was if I’d been physically hugged by this someone long dead,  now flesh and blood beside me, with work-rough hands, and dirty fingernails, and broad brimmed hat, and a satisfied smile.  I’m certain the secret gardener is no long living, and I reach back across those years in gratitude, to show my deep appreciation for the time and effort it took to place a foretaste of spring in an unexpected and hidden place.

I am thus compelled to look for ways to leave such a gift for someone to find 50 years hence as they likewise stumble blindly through too many gray days full of human frailty and flaw. Though I will be long gone,  I can reach across the years to grab them, hug them in their doldrums, lift them up and give them hope for what is to come.  What an astonishing thought that it was done for me and in reaffirming that promise of renewal,  I can do it for another.

Lenten Reflection–Pathway of Flowers and Thorns


We are to follow in His steps; and can we wish, if it were possible, to walk in a path strewed with flowers when His was strewed with thorns?
John Newton

A little over two months ago, two days before Christmas, our family made the necessary decision to have one of our two older dogs, just diagnosed with inoperable cancer, euthanized at home. The vet came on a blustery Friday evening after his clinic appointments were done; my husband and son had worked in the cold wind preparing the grave on a little hill overlooking the barnyard. This peaceful but unmarked spot has become a pet cemetery over the years, now with three dogs and at least that many cats lying under the apple trees.

It was difficult for our family that night to think of our dog’s still warm body tucked into that cold ground. That bare patch of dirt has stared at me as I’ve passed by over the last few weeks and our other dog has paused there once or twice, as if knowing where his old friend lies, and where someday he will be. Then over the last few days, though we are still in the midst of wintry weather, with passing storms of hale, frozen rain and snow showers, I was astonished to see that plot of bare ground transforming.

Snowdrop flowers had appeared from nowhere. They had not been there before and I have no idea where they would have come from. Possibly disturbing the ground brought previously hidden bulbs closer to the surface. No matter how they found their way there, they are a breath of relief and promise after a dark winter. They are bright and clean and pure in the midst of otherwise unadorned mud, embraced overhead by stark bare orchard branches, their little white bells stirred by winter breezes.

They are brave and insistent that life goes on, in reality thriving over the top of death.

So we are encouraged to follow in His steps, one slow difficult step at a time. The going is painful much of the time, strewn as life can be with thorns and tears. Yet, because He walked there first, going ahead of us, His footprints through the thorns are filling with flowers, cushioning our path with unsurpassed love and beauty.