Tag Archive | Abundance

Abundance

IMG_5194 (800x533)Calla lilies were one of the first flowers I loved.  When I was young, we would go two or three times a year on the four-hour trip to visit my Aunt Doris.  On the one hand, a trip to Aunt Doris’s house was something to look forward to.  She lives in a fascinating place:  in a cedar log house in the middle of a redwood forest on the side of a hill with a small creek at the bottom of the ravine.  There are even banana slugs there.  And she did everything you want an auntie to do:  she gave us little presents, she baked homemade cookies and pies, she shared her extensive collection of movies on videotape with us (it was the 1980s; this was high-tech), she let us help her as she fed the wild birds and squirrels which flocked to her deck, and she took us to interesting tourist spots or shopping centers or other fun places.

On the other hand, though, I was a teenager, and even in the most interesting and nurturing of places, I could find a way to be BORED!  One time, I started to look at the gardening catalogs in the basket next to her rocking chair.  Park Seed had the most varieties of flowers to read about.  Jackson & Perkins was fine, with good pictures, but a significant majority of their volume was dedicated to roses.  My mom already had roses, and they seemed kind of obvious and even old-fashioned.  But Wayside Gardens was the best; the photos on the pages of the catalog were larger and glossier, and there was hardly a variety listed that did not have an accompanying color-saturated photo along the outer margin of the same page.

I am not saying this was cool; I was BORED, you understand, so these were desperate times.  But after a while, I found myself looking forward to seeing what was new and different and exotic.  I was most drawn to those flowers with particularly striking colors or interesting shapes.  That is how I found the calla lilies.  They were just so fascinating.  The unique outer petal IMG_5656 (535x800)wrapped itself in a circle, but without symmetry.  It wasn’t a cup, like a tulip, and it wasn’t a trumpet, like an Asiatic lily.  It was more like a cape worn by the kind of gentleman who could ride a horse, draw a sword, and charm a lady, all without losing his dashing posture or wit.  The colors featured in the photographs were always stunning, too:  solid, bold hues of yellow, orange, purple, fuchsia, and white, with perhaps one or two varieties that gradually blushed from one color to another up the petals.  I have heard these catalogs described as pornography for gardeners, and as an adolescent, I was every bit as captivated by the beauty, the mystery, and the sensuality of those photos as I might have been by the other kind.

I am not sure why I never convinced my mother that we should order some of those calla lily specimens for our very own; perhaps I did not think they would do well in our yard, shaded as it was by four large oak trees.  But ever since I have been a homeowner, I have sought out calla lilies.  When we lived in Boston, I would carefully dig the rhizomes out of the ground each year after the first frost, dry them, store them through the cold season in my basement in a small crate lined with shredded newspaper, and then replace them in the front yard after the ground had thawed and the danger of frost was past. Although the flowers were lovely, the whole process felt like an awkward mix between an amateur scientist’s experiment and a fussy craftsperson’s new project.

Since we moved to the South, I do not have to fuss like that any more.  A few years ago, I smothered the grass around the mail box under several layers of wet newspaper and two or three inches of cypress mulch.  And one of the first things I planted in the resulting flower bed the following spring were some pink and yellow calla lilies I found at a local nursery.  I was thrilled, and I have continued to be thrilled every year since then as they thrust the tip of their first leaves above the rotting oak leaves in the early spring, unfurling them in a dramatic foreshadowing of the petals to come, then sending up their stems to reveal those gentlemanly capes of pink and yellow.

Well, almost thrilled.  A flower bed is never really perfectly arranged, is it?  Over time, the Mexican heather and gerbera daisies which alternate in a line between the calla lilies and the edge of the driveway have grown, spreading to crowd the calla lilies.  So last week, I decided it was time to dig up the bulbs of the calla lilies to move them three or four inches to the east, giving everything room to continue to grow.

And as I dug, I was amazed.  When I purchased the pink and yellow calla lilies, there were three or four stems growing in each pot.  Since they were already blooming, making them easier to sell at the nursery, I was careful to plant them without disturbing the roots any more than necessary.  And, of course, I had not seen anything of what was going on underground since then.  I suspected they had spread some, since the patches of leaves and flowers had increased in diameter each year.  But when I loosened the soil in my search for the rhizomes last week, I kept finding more and more and more.  In each place I dug, there were relatively large systems which included several nodules connected together, ready to produce multiple roots and stems in the coming weeks.  And there were even more independent little bulblets, each with its own small point on the top ready to push a tip through the rotting oak leaves and unfurl.  I kept sifting through the dirt, pulling out more and more, until I had two piles, one of the pink variety and one of the yellow, each with dozens of brown blobs ready to grow and bloom with my beloved calla lilies.

And I marveled for a few minutes about God’s abundance.  Our world was created as a place where, given the right conditions, beauty and joy can multiply over time.  Our world is a place where the asymmetrical, the dashing, and the fascinating can thrive and expand.  Our world rewards teenagers who are BORED, and homeowners who experiment and fuss, and gardeners who don’t have any idea what is happening under the oak leaves rotting on top of the ground.  Our world fosters growth by providing caring aunties, glossy photographs of bold hues, and flower beds that have to be rearranged every few years.  Our world never ceases to amaze me, and its Creator never ceases to deserve a doxology:  praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

I put the most complex systems of rhizomes back in the ground, alternating the pink and the yellow, in a line that is longer now, wrapping down the slope and around to the front of the mailbox.  I am not sure all of them will grow; the ground stays pretty wet as it gets closer to the street, so some of the roots might rot.  And the rest I potted this evening, reusing the cheap plastic containers from plants I have brought home from the nursery.  I watered them, and I will put them out in the sun tomorrow, hoping the tips of the leaves poke up in the next few weeks.  If these potted calla lilies grow, I will give them to the Windsor Forest Garden Club to put out at their annual plant sale at the end of next month.  Because calla lilies were one of the first flowers I loved, and I want to share the abundance of beauty and joy our world produces with others.

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December Pesto

IMG_2813 (1024x683)The other day, I was a bit grumpy.  The weather can do that to me sometimes.  Or, at least, I like to blame it on the weather.  It was about 75 degrees, and it was the 11th of December.  That is not the way things are supposed to be.  Don’t get me wrong; on summer days-off, I am as happy as the next guy to enjoy a warm day.  I go out in my shorts and t-shirts and sandals without a care in the world.  On days when I have to work, I can’t very well wear shorts and t-shirts and sandals.  For work days, I have shirts with collars, pants with long legs, belts, hard-soled shoes, and all manner of other layers which stifle and bind me.  In June, at the bright and fresh turn of the season, I can make it all work.  But by December, I am just stuffy and sweaty and miserable, and I feel like I deserve better.  75 degrees is just wrong for this time of year, and I was a bit grumpy about it.

But there was one bright spot in the midst of the injustice of a 75-degree day in December:  fresh basil.  When I came home from work for lunch, my wife and I had our regular conversation about what to eat.  And I looked out of the window in the nook, and I knew the answer.  “I want pasta with pesto.”  I got out the pan and started the water, then I headed outdoors with our kitchen scissors to cut the leaves off of the basil.

Around here, I have found it makes most sense to plant the basil twice each year.  In March, I can usually find the first round of herbs at the nursery.  I put them in a place of prominence in our small herb bed, a little patch enclosed by a small wall of flagstones salvaged from a pathway we removed from the side yard a couple of years ago.  The pathway had become overgrown as stolons of centipede grass meandered across the stones, pushed their roots into the cracks in between, and took up residence in a way that made it clear they had no intention of leaving.  Removing the grass would have been a tedious job at best.  So, we just pulled out the stones, and now I simply run the mower out there when the weeds get so high that we are scared to approach our back-yard gate for fear of what might be lying in wait for us.

The early-spring basil is usually planted in the sunny side of the herb bed, as far away from the house as possible without going into the lawn, so it can enjoy the full day of warm sun which it prefers.  But there is no reason to assume in March that the basil will have any permanence there.  By late June, the basil is feeling the steaminess of a Savannah summer.  Its leaves wither, turn yellow, and fall off the stems, and the plants’ full efforts are put into desperate attempts at reproduction.  As soon as I pinch off one flower bud, another one shoots up.  We usually get out of town for a few days around that time, and when we return, the basil is hopeless.

But in early September, I have found that I can go back to the nursery, pick out a four-pack of fresh, young shoots, and put them in the same sunny side of the little herb bed.  The plants need a bit of watering at first to mitigate against the late-summer heat, but then, they settle in nicely.  As the weather cools a bit, they do not seem to feel any urgency to produce flowers and seeds, so we can simply cut the stems as we need to use them.  Some years, we can get a freeze as early as mid-November.  But this year, like many years, it is almost Christmas and the air has still not reached the fatal 32 degrees.  The basil survives.

I collected my basil, cutting the stems back further than I would another time because I might as well use it before it is gone.  Some of the stems might have been a little too woody, so I probably should have pulled off the leaves.  Next time, I probably will, but that day I threw stems and leaves together in the food processor with the requisite amounts of pine nuts, grated Parmesan, garlic, and olive oil to make the coveted paste.  By the time the macaroni had reached al dente perfection, the pesto was well-mixed and ready to be spread liberally.  An otherwise grumpy day of dealing with the merciless, unseasonable weather was redeemed by the abundance of the autumn basil.

I had a chance to reflect a bit more on this season, and how abundance is revealed in it, the next day when I was talking with the director of a church organization I work with.  This organization works with seniors who have low incomes.  The director told me that another congregation had collected some money and given it to the organization to help the people they serve have a merrier Christmas.  And when the director received the donation, she knew exactly what to do with it.  She has noticed that one of the organization’s clients is always wearing the same pair of pants.  That man told her one day recently that all he had for breakfast that day was some toast because he had no other food in his small apartment.  She set him up with a food pantry and other services, but when he told her about his struggles, she realized something.  He does not wear the same pair of pants all the time simply because he finds those pants comfortable or because he has some quirk of personality that makes him want to wear the same pants all the time.  He wears that pair of pants every day because it is the only pair of pants he owns.  She will use the Christmas donation to buy this man some new clothes.

There are a lot of things in life that can make me grumpy.  A stuffy, sweaty day in what should be a winter month can make me grumpy.  The fact that there is an elderly man who cannot afford food for his breakfast makes me grumpy.  But in this season, abundance is revealed in a lot of ways, too.  It is revealed through autumn basil which provides fresh pesto in the ides of December.  It is also revealed in a collection of cash which provides an old man with some new clothes.  Thanks be to God.

Yellow Tomatoes

One of my favorite things in my garden right now are the yellow tomatoes.  I want to be clear:  I don’t like to eat fresh tomatoes.  You can barrage me with comments about the joy of biting into a fresh tomato:  the tangy yet sweet taste, the burst of juicy goodness, the ecstasy of the whole experience.  You can label me as simply naive, assuming that the only tomato I have ever sampled was one of the plastic ones purchased in the supermarket.  You can wax poetic about the superiority of homegrown tomatoes, and advise me to let no more than a few seconds lapse between the time the tomato is plucked from the vine until the time I take that ecstatic first bite.  Try what you will, my view will not change.  I don’t like fresh tomatoes.

I’m not sure why I don’t like tomatoes.  I think it is a texture thing.  But I have never liked tomatoes.  I had a friend in college who also didn’t like tomatoes, and we became allies in defending our dislike to our other friends.  Imagine how I felt, then, when I visited her a couple of years ago and heard her using words which would have been blasphemy ten years before:  “Well, I tried one a couple of years ago, and I found that they’re really not that bad…”  I felt so betrayed after she said that.  So betrayed, and so alone.

I do appreciate a good tomato sauce.  When I was single and living on my own, a kind woman in my church offered me tomatoes from her abundant garden.  I did not have the heart to explain to her my dislike of the fruit, so I accepted them.  And then, they kept coming.  Finally, I told my then-girlfriend about my problem.  She came over one Sunday afternoon and proceeded to cook the tomatoes, which were by then taking over my refrigerator, down into a pasta sauce I can still remember.  It was amazing:  rich and meaty, but still light and pleasantly spiced.  I could tell you that sauce didn’t influence my decision to ask her to marry me a couple of months later, but I would be lying.

Since then, we have planted at least one or two tomato plants in our yard almost every year.  These days, we tend to plant the smaller varieties of tomato, the cherry or grape sized ones, rather than the larger ones which are better for making sauce, because we have a little boy living in our house who eats tomatoes like they are candy.   In the past couple of years, it has been almost as exciting for me as it is for him when I can tell him in the evening that I saw an almost-ripe tomato on the vine earlier in the day.  He dashes out the back door, looks intently in the garden, and usually comes back with a fruit in his hand and a proud smile on his face.  If there are two ripe tomatoes, he musters all the generosity a five-year-old can show and assigns one to be eaten by his mom while he puts the other one by his place at the supper table.  I love that boy.

This year, we almost didn’t have any tomatoes.  The season was getting late last spring, and we had not done any planning for our vegetable garden.  The time I had to work in the yard was filled with spreading mulch on the front flower bed, cleaning up the rotting remains of our perennials which were never removed last fall, and fussing over the daylillies in hopes that my efforts to improve the soil they live in would result in the first good blooming season since I first got them several years ago.  One day while we were at one of the big-box home improvement stores we shop at now and then (please don’t judge us), we picked up a few bell pepper plants and one, lonely grape tomato.

Soon afterwards, we received the late-night telephone call telling us that my wife’s mother had passed away.  We got on the road right away, and the vegetable garden was abandoned for more important matters.  By the time we came home and settled back into a routine, the grape tomato was struggling to survive, and I did not have a chance to go out and get some more.  Then, a week or so later, I had a message one night from a member of our church.  She had been given more extra heirloom tomato plants than she could use, and she wanted to know if we wanted to share in her abundance.  Who could say no to that kind of offer?  I went over to her house that evening to pick up four plants:  one producing a chocolate brown fruit, another producing something more pink, and two producing small, yellow tomatoes.  I was particularly excited about the yellow ones, since my son has declared yellow to be his favorite color every time he has been asked for the past two or three years.

Things have not been pretty for the poor tomatoes in our vegetable garden since then.  About a month after putting the plants in the ground, I finally got around to pulling the weeds, working in some compost, and spreading some pine straw to insulate the roots from the harsh summer heat.  I think I was a little late, though.  The plant from the big-box store sputtered out one or two fruits before it shriveled up and died.  The brown and pink heirloom varieties have grown some but not produced any fruit.  But we have had one or two yellow tomatoes a week from each of our two vines of that variety.

And every time I tell my son that he should look for some ripe yellow tomatoes to have with our supper, I am reminded of some important things.  I am reminded that my wife makes a darn fine spaghetti sauce, and that I am lucky that she is willing to make it for me.  I am reminded that a five-year-old can teach me something about excitement and generosity.  And I am reminded that, despite the betrayal of my college friend who allowed herself to be swayed by the other side, I am never, in fact, alone.  Sometimes life and death get in the way of the sources of our wonder-filled excitement, loving generosity, and delicious flavor.  But when that happens, likely as not, someone will send a message about abundance and sharing, and I will be invited to pick up a unique gift.

Thanks be to God.