“As for me…I shall be satisfied when I awaken with your likeness…” — Psalm 17: 15b
The arborist thrust his large hand into the middle of the evergreen topiary and pulled out a handful of dead powdering needles. “Things are changing,” he said matter-of-factly. In warm Germ-ish (German and English) he continued, “For the last three years it goes hotter and hotter.” His recommendation was uncertain, “It is the landlord’s… (wrestling for the word).”
“Investment?” I suggested.
“Genau (exactly)! It takes much water, much time; and you pay for every water, even what comes from the sky.” I never figured out what he meant by the latter but got the message: Leave the destiny of the seven topiaries hedging our rented house to the landlord’s concern.
Sitting at my desk by the window later in the day I looked out at the topiaries and at my partially blocked view of the hills and rolling landscape of our little hamlet. I sighed longingly to be out wandering along its paths. Freshly motivated, I tried to pull my eyes back to my purpose of completing my studies for the day. On the way to my computer screen, they drifted across the patch of green just outside the French doors and beyond the patio and rested at my miraculous and now familiar friend—a bundle of ground cover that daily offered up a testimony of God’s ability to keep.
I had been watching it for months, amazed to see it push back each onslaught of the unusually rough winter in our area. It had even borne a few pale, yellow-green flowers. Then came the really rough weather—rain, then sleet, then flakes and a couple weeks of frozen conditions. Smothered in snow and oppressed by ice, the small bundle looked like lettuce accidentally left in the freezer. I was sure that episode would spell its final demise. But, after the return of one week of warm weather, it was shaking off its dead flowers, plumping up its wide leaves—both the old and the new—and budding up for more blooms than it had before. It might as well have been taking a nap.
It seemed to have responded to the call of the Lord of life, “Talitha Cumi! (Little girl, awake!).” Those were His words to the young daughter of the Jewish leader, whom the neighbors and professional wailers had all declared dead. In the brightness of the presence of that which is truly Light, death cringed and withdrew its icy grip. My flower friend, like that little girl, miraculously reached out her fronds, and, in Life’s strong grasp, awakened—the wintry season melting away and watering her roots.
The flash of buttercup-yellow caught my eyes on the way to the recycling bin that morning. Three-inch-long fingers of bright gold pointed to the still-greying sky, but also to the onset of spring. Hurrying out of the cold, I marveled at the wonder that was the crocus flower, remembering the purple ones which we eagerly watched for, each winter’s end, back in the early Midwest days of our family. Next to the return of the red-breasted robins and the red buds on the bare branches of trees along the driveway, it was likely our favorite ‘first sign of spring’, literally pushing its way through the snow.
The three blooms were a remnant of this home’s former glory, telling of a time when the entire curb past the garage door was likely lined with a low bed, spread in yellow. No gardener had minded these beauties for a couple years, yet here they were—quietly excusing themselves past the brazen sprawling leaves of the dandelion weed crowding their rise. For a few days, they had opened wide their glowing petals and shyly closed them again, until finally spent, they shed and tucked themselves away until another spring. They reminded me of the good friend who shows up in the grey of life’s chilly cycle of grief, who quietly and sweetly smiles on your day, then gently slips away. Such leave behind no claim of obligation, only the assurance of a new season and a brighter tomorrow.
I felt overwhelmed and confused about our yard as the Spring approached, but the arborist was patient yet focused as I identified our idea of the landscape’s pressing need. I followed him, learning as he circled the house. I gestured towards the line of willows, readying themselves for springtime leafing. Some of them looked aged but their branches spoke of growth in recent years, places where life would again sprout as summer set in. A good trim ahead of all that would do the trick and control the side-yard, we thought. But when the arborist spoke, it was definite and confident. I could tell that whatever he did in our garden would remain done. He ran his large hand familiarly over the bark of the nearest willow and explained: Fall is a better time for cutting willows, let them thrive for the summer. Like a promise to a pet that he would be back to give them what they needed in season, he patted the trunk and moved away, continuing our round.
Prune and feed the roses. Uproot and clear away the overgrown juniper that had long forgotten it was only a ground cover between flagstones. Uproot and dispose of the hopelessly disheveled evergreen bush, whose branches on one side would never replenish themselves. Decide how severely to have the two small trees in front trimmed—it will mean the difference between birds singing to you, or the menacing hum of bees come summer. With his estimate promised, he drove away, and I returned to the side-yard with the willows. What difference would it make to cut the willows in spring versus fall? I wondered, but the mysteries and wisdom of the arborist had left with him.
I was glad the arborist knew the right time to trim the willows and impressed by his integrity. He would do nothing to those trees just for the money. I closed my eyes as the last chilly breezes of my first German winter rustled the bare willow branches, and I recalled the cutting of another willow. It was one which had graciously overhung the front verandah of my tropical childhood home, welcoming us each school day, like a coddling parent, under its wispy shade after the scorching walk from the bus-stop. Its shaggy bark and thread-like needles sprinkled the memory of my childhood outdoor play. But then came the time we noticed that it was tilting, Pisa-like, and taking along with it some of the concrete of the verandah wall and ledge, as well as the garden bed which it had once so faithfully shaded. I don’t remember the cutting, but the gaping space—like a mouth unsatisfied mid-yawn—had greeted me like a breach in the wall of the soul of my childhood world.
Memories of home blew in on the early spring breeze and a gap yawned uncovered as I longed to gather loved ones into the shelter of my German garden, out of the heat of life’s challenging day. I could see them all there! I planned for new friends and neighbors to come and could see them scattered happily about. But beneath these trees and in this welcoming space first belonged certain people—family, some of whom can never come again, to this home or to any other. Others were now too far away—people I long to see, and settle, and serve, in a garden party like no other. French doors flung wide open from a dining hall, table-laden with delightful and uncomplicated fare. A welcome spilling out onto fresh cut grass, green healthy trees and fragrant shrubbery and flowers.
Yes, heaven will be a garden-home, but oh-so-much-more! The perfect Husbandman is making it “beautiful for situation” like the old KJV states it and causing “all its springs of joy” to perpetually flow. The heavenly arborists are, even now, nurturing each tree, flower and bush to perfect life, planted as they are by the Rivers of Living Water, their healing leaves never withering nor their trunks leaning heavy, threatening to fall. The wicked wintry burn will “cease from troubling” and the family will all come Home to their places in the broody shade and glow of a perpetual evening Son-shine, to fellowship with the Father, in the cool of the Day.
I am Denise Stair Armstrong; born and raised Jamaican. I received all my formal academic education in the land of my birth at Shortwood Teachers’ College and the University of the West Indies, specializing in English Language & Literatures in English. The remainder I’ve gained home educating our three wonderful children – Joseph, Charis and Timothy, parenting them with my husband Claude, and in caring for my wheel-chair bound mother. I enjoy reading, cooking, gardening, theatre and ballroom dancing with Claude (only!) and digging into the Word of God.
My passion is worship expressed primarily through writing inspirational pieces that urge readers not to miss how much the Lord has “cramm’d earth with heaven”. My heart is to encourage them to traverse the gap between all our hearts and the cultures that shape them, via the Bridge that is Calvary’s cross.