Amur honeysuckle. Black cherry. Honey locust. Tree-of-heaven. Sugar Hackberry. Eastern redcedar. Southern magnolia. Sawtooth blackberry. Crape-myrtle. Queen Anne’s-lace. The deep greens and golds, purples and whites of the flora is mesmerizing enough, but their fragrances make their own sacred pleasure-dome (to plagiarize Coleridge) in the warm air. The beauty makes me feel like I’m in some faraway, exotic place on vacation, but I’m not. This is my new home.
Dove’s-feather white. Enormous as whales. Billowing like sails. Tinged with baby’s-breath blue. Scattered and wispy. Gray and thundering. A hilly country with more pastures and fields than forests and mountains has opened up the vast and quiet world of clouds to me. The humidity is heavy on my lungs and clammy on my skin, but makes each rainstorm a sweet relief. Cloudbursts douse the dry, dusty ground and brown grass, filling ditches and rivers. They keep the greenery lush – apart from a few leaves that have shriveled in the heat, turned banana-yellow, and fallen.
Tiny, white-eared rabbits at silflay during golden hour. Cheery goldfinches, elusive cardinals, pert mockingbirds, and aggressive blue jays hopping around bird feeders. A mother cat and three silky black kittens with golden eyes watching me at dusk. A snake longer than my arm curled lazily in the middle of a path. Many of these creatures are familiar to me, but I love watching the drama of their alert watchfulness and quick movements on my walks. My own creature, a jolly golden retriever, enjoys chasing most of them, tongue hanging out, tail wagging.
A high school performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” A four-person cast in a production of C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce.” Lectures on time, the Christian values embedded in our culture, grief, and joy at the Rabbit Room’s North Wind Manor. Over the past few years, I have trained myself to listen to rumors of talks and conferences, performances and concerts that I could possibly attend on Eventbrite, Universe, Facebook, Instagram, the websites of faith & art or Christian-based intellectual organizations, and blog posts. Now, it is so good to have this wealth of opportunities within easy driving distance. Each event is a small wellspring of ponderings on time, love, justice, and joy that keep me from drying up in the grinding necessities of life (like grocery shopping and taxes).
The turbulence of the past few years in the world and my life – COVID, moving a few times, war, government changes, travel, making and canceling plans – have made me expect ephemerality. As I shopped and hauled and hammered and shifted new furniture, I kept wondering how long it will be before I have to break down what I built, repack my possessions, and move somewhere else. I don’t feel comfortable imagining myself becoming safe and settled anywhere for more than a year. When will the next pandemic, tornado, hurricane, or recession break? When will I need to make a career movie or transition for family or friends? Every anchor I screw into drywall and rug I unroll is an attempt to create a fragile but cozy haven for a time, however long that time is.
In these golden, sweltering, precious summer days, I’m reading stories and trying to craft my own. I savored Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White in the sultry afternoon sun by the pool. I paged through Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There on my phone as I waited in line at the county clerk’s office for new license plates. Every free evening, I hunt for magical creatures and literary archetypes in The Lore of Scotland and The Folk Tales of Scotland by the flickering light of a honey-scented candle. I can feel potential future readers with me in every scene I craft, as if I’m the driver of a safari bus tour, hoping I don’t run us all off the road into the jungle of clichés, melodrama, confusion, preachiness, or boredom.
But finally, after empty for so long, I’m able to dream again.
So, I’m here in Scotland. It’s October. I weathered two weeks of quarantine, cold winds off the sea, drizzling rain and blazing gold sun, walks down cobbled streets and runs up green hills. I’ve sipped mochas and eaten scones with clotted cream in little coffee shops with classmates, read long texts about aesthetics and Dante and postsecularism and a menagerie of other things, and listened to lectures on Tolkien and metaphysics and Song of Songs that made the world seem like a spinning toy carousel on a roof in Paris.
I spent almost four years of my post-college life reading and studying, listening to and envying the beauty of others’ lives, of traveling writers and homeschooling mothers and brilliant academics. As I mentioned before, I want to be careful how I write about this year: it’s a grand adventure and glorious gift with a lot of hard work, stress, and small, dull, difficult tasks woven through it.
So here it is: a month’s worth of impressions of St. Andrews.
Cobbled streets and winding roads; stone houses with slanted roofs or beige or white stucco houses with red tiled roofs; gardens of yellow rose-of-sharon or white roses; little shops of books, tartan, snow globes, scarves, golf gear, coffee, and pastries. The castle and cathedral ruins look mystical in the morning and eerie at night.
It’s charming and quaint, but also pays the price of its age: scaffolding and any kind of equipment looks out of place here, anachronistic in its bright colors and shining plastic or steel. Water pressure is piddling; mold and mildew are known hazards; they’re terrified of fire (we have three fire doors in our flat and warning signs everywhere).
Steep hills of rolling green fields or plowed brown soil; pastures of black cows and white sheep; winding roads twined with blackberry plants, rose trees, and dead gray thistles; the blue sea calm and still or frothy with foam. One friend said she’s seen porpoises off the shore and rainbows on the horizon.
Fife itself is full of stone ruins and small fishing villages. I’ve only explored some of the Fife Pilgrim Trail so far, Crail, and Elie; small neighborhoods of stone houses, bright blue or red doors, ornamental wrought ironwork, gardens of orange roses and yellow begonias, and green hedges.
Many houses and farms have cute or regal names: Kenly Green, White Cottage, North Quarter Farmhouse.
In my few days visiting Oxford last May, I felt the brilliance of the students and faculty almost palpably in the streets, lectures, and museum exhibits: we are the elite. St. Andrews has equally brilliant minds, but it feels more hidden and remote, like a secret society of astronomers meeting at the top of the world. I’m more of an insider here as a student (I was just a tourist in Oxford), but my program is also less well-known and feels delightfully intimate.
In those soft spring days last year, Oxford was gold; St. Andrews is silver. Oxford felt like a smaller Gondor, dreaming spires at dusk; St. Andrews feels more like the Gray Havens, stone ruins at twilight. It has a special northernness, ruggedness, and loneliness from its brooding skies and wild sea.
I knew so little about theology and the arts, and our discoveries are breathtaking. We’ve studied Giotto’s Arena Chapel, Dante’s Inferno and Purgatorio, the curio shop of religious kitsch and the wasteland/wonderland of postmodernism and postsecularism. We’ve really barely started, but here are a few curiosities I’m pondering as we read and discuss:
How can we value beauty without idolizing it? Protestant suspicion of beauty and visual art is well-known, and I think it has valid reasons: it’s so easy to worship beauty as an idol, as Dorian Gray did. However, driving through the industrial meadowlands of New Jersey and remembering churches with moldy gray carpets and barren walls reminds me that beauty has spiritual significance: it revives the soul and glorifies our Creator-God.
How do orthodoxy and artistic vision relate? In class, we’ve talked about the relationship between theology and art: are the arts 1) a mere illustration of theological truth, 2) a completely separate area of thought, or 3) an equally authoritative source of truth? I am passionately orthodox, and the idea that an artist’s work could translate spiritual truths just as well as divinely-inspired Scripture makes me nervous. However, viewing the study of theology/art as wandering around with a doctrinal checklist and making sure every charcoal sketch or one-act play matches every cant and creed seems unnecessarily harsh and legalistic.
How can I glorify God with my art? I yearn to delve into the mystery of the incarnation, the wonders of creation, and the richness of divine love with storytelling and essay-writing – but a work written with a teaching purpose behind it can become a poorly-dressed scarecrow sermon or a cheesy, flimsy thing that’s embarrassing to call yours. We’ve talked about how just following a thread of inspiration and focusing on the craftsmanship of the work in itself can create something lovely and meaningful, but I need to figure out how to do that practically.
After years of longing for intellectual and artistic community, I’m joyfully overwhelmed by the opportunities here. Other scholar-artists/artist-scholars here have fascinating interests and talents – just listening to them makes me want to go write a great American novel in the murmuring woods or compose poetry under the stars. You may see some of their work here soon – I started a collaboration project for autumn themed “Thresholds” and featuring some artifact-sharing that I hope will create a feast of beauty.
God is good. Through the maze of visa applications, pandemic restrictions, phone plan issues, and banking mayhem, He has upended the storehouse of Heaven and showered blessing after blessing on my head. I hope this garden-haven plants rich, lovely things in my soul to harvest for the rest of my life.
My research methods for this Summer of Faerie project have been quick, messy plunges instead of the careful, methodical, deep dives of a professional scholar. However, I am finding treasures. J.R.R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, Ursula K. Le Guin, Alan Jacobs, Madeleine L’Engle, and many others have explored the mysteries of Faerie, including memory, imagination, wonder, and beauty. My latest pleasure was finally reading George MacDonald’s The Golden Key, which I had heard about but not read – a sparkling, mesmerizing tale with echoes of dreams, death, and eternity.
The other writers who have joined me in this quest of celebrating and adding to the Faerie canon continue to delight. Rachel Donahue returns with another poem that “strips the veil of familiarity from the world” to expose “its sleeping beauty” (stole that from Shelley). Rachel also contributed a story that reminded me of a hearthfire on a cool, misty day – atmospherically, somewhere between the Shire and the Misty Mountains. Enjoy!
King Midas Chased Me This Morning
King Midas chased me this morning.
I saw him coming in the rear view glass, his broad reach spreading o’er field and tree and man alike, gilding everything in sight until he reached my pane, besmirched with dust, and I could see no more through the aurous wash.
As I fled, I turned to spy him rising there behind a tree, and when I least expected him, his fingers reached deliberately and touched my eyes till all I saw was gold.
Summer of Invisible Dragons
by Rachel Donahue
Plowed the back pasture today. Tom Shepherd came down the lane with his flock and brought word that dragons have descended from the top of Mt. Summit. Strange news. He’s not one to believe in fairy tales. I’m afraid he may have the dropsy mind.
Successful day at market. Folks love Mae Ella’s rhubarb jam. Stopped by the inn for a brew and heard a traveler saying that Dunn Castle is under siege by invisible dragons. The other patrons laughed at his strange tale, but his story gave me a bad feeling. I told Mae Ella about it and what old Tom said the other day.
Helped Mae Ella prep her flower beds. Sowed the back pasture.
Cut hay in the meadow.
Figured out where the story of invisible dragons came from. They aren’t invisible at all—you just can’t see them. A messenger from Allendale said the eternal cloud at the top of Mt. Summit has descended upon Dunn Castle where it sits at the foot of the mountain. The castle is completely hidden from view. Said he could see flashes of fire inside the cloud all the way from Allendale.
Baled hay. Mae Ella helped.
Went to a meeting in the square this afternoon at Mae Ella’s urging. Rumor reached us this morning that the dragons have spread from Dunn Castle to Allendale. Some believe the dragons can smell crowds, so they refuse to go outside. That explains why the market was so slow. Wish I could’ve stayed home myself. There’s talk of canceling the lantern festival next week, though I don’t see the reason for such fuss. We’re a long way from Allendale.
Smithy says there’s an inventor coming to Redfield to teach all the smiths from surrounding villages how to make his contraption—a kind of metal parasol. Says it’ll protect from dragon fire. Smithy’s already asking folks to give up their swords and shields and any other scrap metal they can afford. Says once the dragons get here we won’t have much use for them anyway. Not sure that I’m ready to give up my weapons on a hunch. But I did check the roof over and patch a couple places.
Mended the fence in the south meadow.
Word came that the dragons seem to have a taste for elders and are sparing the children. Maybe they’re attracted to the smell of menthol and camphor, I don’t know. But there’s a cloud over Sweetdale now, so they’re one step closer. There’s another meeting in the square tomorrow morning—only one representative from each family. Guess it’s up to me to go.
We canceled the lantern festival. Who could have imagined. We’ve celebrated this festival on the same day for hundreds of years. But we can’t risk attracting the dragons with large crowds. Our elders are too valuable.
Planted the garden. Feels strange to be sowing with the threat of dragons. Wondering if we’ll even be here to harvest.
I took my shield and extra swords to Smithy today. Never thought I’d be protecting my family by surrendering my weapons. Nothing makes sense any more now that there are dragons. They’ve moved on to Birchwood, so it’s just a matter of time before they get here. People are celebrating the lantern festival by placing their lanterns in windows. It’s not the same, but it’s a mighty nice view from our end of town to see so many little lights aglow.
A traveling merchant in the market today was selling what he called “dragon repellent”—a stink cream guaranteed to keep them away. He made some sales, but I didn’t buy it. Mae Ella asked around and found it was something she could make herself. Now the kitchen stinks to high heaven. I sure hope she don’t expect me to smear that stuff on when I go out.
Yep, she did. I smell so bad I can hardly stand myself. But I sure do love that woman. She makes so few demands of me, if she feels better with me stinking, I reckon I’ll do it. Good thing is, I’m not the only one. There’s enough of us wearing the stink that you can’t tell who it is that smells so bad. It might or might not keep the dragons away, but it’ll sure work on everything else. Even Bo and Bess won’t come near me. Glad the planting’s all done.
Well I never. I’m so cross I can’t see straight. Heard that our neighbors over in Greenfield are pushing their elders out of town, sending them out as a kind of offering to the dragons. Said they won’t be caught stinking or using funny parasols—they have the right to go about their lives like normal. Said if the dragons want the elders they can have ‘em, that way they’ll leave the rest of the village alone. Folks tried to tell ‘em it don’t work that way, but they won’t listen. We here in Redfield been taking those elders in for safekeeping. It may put us at higher risk, but with the stink cream and the parasols and everyone staying indoors, we suspect to be OK.
Got a nasty splinter while making stakes for the tomatoes. Mae Ella got most of it, but couldn’t get the last sliver. Elder Roy made up a paste to draw it out. I wonder what other useful things he’s got stored up in that head of his.
No market this week. Working the land with my parasol contraption close by. It’s a bit unnerving, having to watch and listen so close while I work, but I got to keep the farm going.
Folks is growing restless, what with being cooped up with the stink and all. The inn’s closed, and the taverns, too, and no one’s meeting in the square. I only leave to tend to my animals, and poor Mae Ella hardly leaves at all. It’s hard to see that sweet blossom withering on the vine, but she’s determined to take good care of the three elders we got staying with us. To pass the time we all tell stories of an evening. I’ve been amazed to hear what they’ve seen in their day, but it’s nothing like the dragons. They’ve never lived anything like this.
The dragons are at Greenfield. Maker have mercy. Some from town went to see if they could help, to carry them some cream and a few extra parasols, but it was too late. The cloud had already covered the village. We could see flashes of fire out west in the early morning hours before the sun was up. It’s eerily quiet here—no birds or chitterin, no wagons or talking. Everyone’s locked up tight now, just waiting.
The dragons passed us by. I’ve never been so scared in my life. We been spread out in the house, not more than two together, and all of us under parasols as much as possible. Only sound I heard for two days was a baby crying down the street and the animals restless in the barn. No one knows when they’ll be back or exactly why they kept going, but we’re all breathing careful tonight.
Still no sign of dragons here, but no one goes outside unless they need to. Taking every precaution. Got word from Greenfield today—the whole village is in mourning, hardly a family untouched. Some dead, some suffering burns, a couple houses charred to a crisp. Someone sent word thanking us for saving their elders from such a fate. The elders are mourning, though. They’ve lost more than most.
Been at Greenfield for two days, helping to clean up the remains. Mae Ella sent me off with baskets of food and all the extra stink cream she could spare. Only seven of us made the trip from Redfield, but we didn’t walk together for fear of drawing the dragons back. It was a lonely journey. I’ve worked so hard the last two days I ache in places I’d forgotten about, but I was determined to get home to my sweet Mae Ella soon as I could.
The elders have decided to return home. Greenfielders are staying indoors now and using all the stink cream and parasols they can get, and they’re in sore need of their elders. I’m mighty proud of the folks from our village who are stepping up to help and donating what they can. A few old misers in town are more interested in being right and teaching them a lesson, but I say that that poor village has suffered their folly enough without anybody else heaping coal on the fire. The ones of us who went to help the other day saw that plain enough.
Weeded the garden. Caught a glimpse of the firstfruits.
There’s a new normal around here. We live every day with the threat of dragons (word still comes of villages hit near and far) but we’ve been fortunate. Hard not to let our guard down when the skies are so clear. But we all care about each other too much to be careless. Even the ones that was skeptical are taking up parasols now that it’s hit so close to home. Some of the ladies done gone to painting theirs, making it a new kind of fashionable thing. I got to say I don’t mind it so much. Those little spots of color—like the zinnias that popped up in Mae Ella’s flower bed—just brighten up the place and help it not to feel so dark and dreary. Eventually the dragons will come—I can feel it in my bones—but that don’t mean we can’t take care of what’s here right now. If Mae Ella’s taught me anything in all my years with her, it’s that. We got work to do.
Rachel S. Donahue holds a B.A. in English and Bible from Welch College in Nashville, TN, and has more than eleven years’ experience changing diapers. She and her husband, Mick, previously lived and worked in Spain serving people groups at risk of marginalization. They now live near Charlotte, North Carolina, where they’re both involved in the family greenhouse business while raising three sprightly boys and a sweet-as-pie little girl.Visit her website/blog at www.thedonahuedaily.com. Her book, Real Poems for Real Moms: from a Mother in the Trenches to Another, can also be found on Amazon or bookshop.org.
Friends, the natural world is changing from gray to green, chilly to warm, frozen to refreshed, but it feels like the human world has gone mad. This pandemic has reshuffled the cards of our lives. I pray for those who are sick, grieving, afraid, jobless, homebound, or lonely.
The LORD God is our stronghold. I hope to honor Him by seeking joy in dark places and pursuing beauty through these gray days. Therefore, I am going ahead with the next installment of my Magic of Late Winter series, a guest post by Hope Henchey about late winter in Florida.
Hope’s meditation on the beauty and transience of this season in Florida stirred me like a dream of summer in the midst of winter. I love how she captures this season’s precious, fierce, fragile joy. Enjoy!
If you ask my opinion of living in Florida for 22 years, the answer you get will vary widely depending on what month it is. You should ask in a month like March.
Those who live in colder climates might look to March with hopefulness of sunny days and fresh air. As a Floridian, however, I’ve already been enjoying sunny days and fresh air for the past few months, so I cling to March tightly as I watch the last specks of sand drizzle through the hourglass, signaling the season when my Shire will transform into Mordor.
March is so, so lovely. It’s the tail-end of strawberry season, which means those delicious berries are cheap, plenteous, and ruby-red ripe. Since we live only five minutes from strawberry fields, we actually eat strawberries at every meal. To continue with Lord of the Rings imagery, I devour strawberries in the same way the steward of Gondor murderously eats tomatoes. The juice drips from my chin like blood, but I don’t even care. It’s glorious.
March is a month when mosquitoes (“our state bird”, as we say) are still mostly gone, and the air is cool enough to enjoy all the local rivers, trees, and beaches. My favorite beach is Siesta Key, where the sand truly looks and feels like powdered sugar. Nearby is the gorgeous John and Mable Ringling Museum and Estate (yes, the circus guy) where my daughters enjoy savoring aromas in Florida’s oldest rose garden. On the way home, we like to stop by a delightful orange grove that sells soft-serve frozen orange juice. March days are full of such adventures.
Though we still might get sunburned if we’re outside more than ten minutes, the big ol’ Star seems more like friend than foe in months like these.
There is, of course, an uneasiness that pulls at my sleeve in March. I know that the hot half of the year is hurtling toward us, with its bugs and crowds and threats of heatstroke. Especially since I’m entering my fifth pregnant summer in nine years, I know that I have months of difficult breathing ahead since my organs get all squished up, yet the fourth-most humid city in America doesn’t seem to care. Even walking to my car feels like I’m underwater in a 100-degree pool. I dread that feeling so much.
But that’s the thing with seasons, isn’t it? We don’t get to control them. Unless we have the flexibility to chase around good weather, we don’t get to pick what season we’re in. I wish strawberries were always cheap and ripe, but the plants must die and be replanted and grow from seeds again. I wish the air could always feel fresh and delightful, but heat and humidity must come.
If I could customize seasons of life by sheer will, I would cut out a lot of the things going on in my life right now, issues that are heavier than hot weather or lack of berries. But the world is broken, and God has given me limits. I can receive each season as the blessing it is, given by God for His glory and my good.
There’s beauty in every season. Even summer holds things I love such as mighty yet calming lightning storms, Vacation Bible School, and lower prices on grapes. But while it’s still March, I’ll enjoy every last moment of blowing bubbles in our yard and gator-watching at Lettuce Lake Park and meandering downtown Tampa’s Riverwalk.
I thank Him for this season and trust Him for the next.
This blog series on the magic of late winter has been a cross-country exploration of regional beauty – Kimberly Margaret Miller gave me a glimpse of winter sunlight in the deep South, and Loren Warnemuende showed me the snow and flowering dogwoods of southeast Michigan. This week’s post is written by Reagan Dregge, with pictures by Kristen Kopp. These writers are from Minnesota, the prairie, where Laura Ingalls Wilder spent a year On the Banks of Plum Creek and temperatures can drop to -30 degrees Fahrenheit in winter (wind chill can drop to -68 degrees).
Reagan Dregge‘s breathtaking imagery reminds me that we live in a world of wonders, a place just as wild and magical as Faerie. Kristen Kopp‘s images remind me to open my eyes to the beauty of the ordinary, the precious gift of snow and sunlight, leaf and sky. Enjoy!
by Reagan Dregge pictures by Kristen Kopp
You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment. – Annie Dillard
By late winter the air is scorched ice. The snowscape is sucked dry, colorless. Lungs burn. Skin stings. The ground is a slick slab of sheer adamant. Frost laces windowpanes like fractures into faerie. The frozen world is transparent. I can see through every stilled molecule, through trees that crack the sky, through the thin atmosphere all the way to the Milky Way wrapped like a scarf around our galaxy. The frigid stars blaze bright and sharp. I imagine standing on the surface of the moon. The constellations spin above in dazzling clarity.
Have you beheld a sundog-flanked dawn? The sun, shattered into shards? Three fire pillars pierce the cobalt firmament, diamond guardians of earth’s rim, or an archangel with two swords barring reentry into paradise? On winter evenings, neons melt on the horizon. Charged particles scatter solar flame. Unnamed, unnumbered hues are born in the bent beams, next to which rainbows are a faded polaroid.
Bitter winds writhe and moan across the plains. Windows rattle, porch bells ring. The shrill surgeon slashes and severs, casting withered sticks and shriveled limbs across the brittle bier beneath attending silver maples. Huddled hedges offer brief respite from the biting chill. Fog’s froth condenses and crystallizes, coating every stem, twig, and chain link with rime ice armor. Glass-sheathed grass sheaves gather at the edge of ditches. Lake waves freeze into a gleaming fleet of fairy sails. The cold cuts words short, and they drop to the ground like bubbles blown in subzero temps or evaporate instantaneously like a pot of boiling water thrown into the air. Weather fluctuations can be detected in the length of icicles dangling from every lip and gable, dripping into their own trenches or dropping like grenades in the night.
Spread out under an open sky the snow sparkles like champagne, and in the crisp gold light a toast is raised. Blizzards blow across the plains, covering forest and field with mountainous shifting drifts. The polar vortex unfurls its coffers and foams forth layer after layer over the bounding breadth. Clusters of vapor flurry and fall, spun and splintered and studded. No two alike, each flake a delicate intricacy. They melt the moment they touch tongue or alight eyelash, existing brief as a breath, fleeting as a flower. From wet heft to pellet sleet, snow’s forms are as bottomless as Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. The sounds of my walk down our quarter-mile driveway change with every day: creak, crunch, slurp, slush, swish, sweep, whisper-soft absorption.
Deep within the frozen earth, amphibians sleep in soundless stasis. Bird and butterfly have long since flown south, but woodpeckers and white-tailed deer remain, subsisting on bark and acorns. Rabbits and mice trace patterns in the morning dusting. I once saw a hawk’s wingprint stamped in a snowbank. Wisdom and miracle abound in this stark and solitary season.
To those who find winter blank and monotonous: you must write your psalm and I must write mine. There is glory hidden in the gray—look for it when the cold burns and the light dims. Look, and you will find winter crowning the year, robed in alabaster, strewn with rubies, fragrant as juniper, fresh as citrus, warm as cinnamon.
Reagan Dregge Reagan loves names and words and stories. She once studied creative writing and theatre arts, but today she homeschools, writes handwritten letters, and salvages her own little house on the prairie with a husband, daughter, and multiplying menagerie (one cat, two dogs, a dwarf netherland rabbit, and a small flock of chickens). Her favorite seasons are winter, spring, summer, and fall. Follow her blog, The Grace Book, to read more of her work.
Kristen Kopp Kristen lives in a cottage on the prairies of Southern Minnesota. She works in her local Community Development Department by day and spends the rest of her time wandering in the woods, writing letters, and gathering with friends and family to share meals and play board games. Follow her on Instagram at @kristenannakopp.
Last week, I posted the first in a series on the magic of late winter, or the special beauty of this season between midwinter mystery and spring awakening. This week, I have the privilege of posting an achingly beautiful piece by Loren Warnemuende, another writer-friend from The Habit writing community. Loren’s encouragement and wisdom have been a blessing to me in my writing, and her work has the warmth and richness of the first golden day of spring.
Snow and Flower
by Loren Warnemuende
I remember a day in late January, 2009, when the snow fell thick and heavy. It fell unhurriedly; it had plenty of time, and plenty to dump. Southeast Michigan in January tends more to gray days and ice, but on that day, the skies cried soft snow.
I drove, my mind churning, my tires cutting through ruts of previous vehicles. One of those vehicles carried my daughter Keren—an ambulance that sped far ahead, out of sight. I didn’t know if Keren still lived.
The snow paused. A shaft of light cut through the clouds and caressed a white field. It was as if God reached down to remind me, “I am here. I am holding all of you.” The cold and snow lingered, the heart monitor flatlined, but the sunlight touched the field.
Six months later we cleared lava rock and weeping mulberries from our yard, replacing those horrors with grass and a dogwood tree. Though Michigan dogwoods can’t compare to their southern relatives who shake out white and pink blooms each spring like antebellum debutantes at a ball, the Michigan dogwood defies winter. We trusted its pretense of fragility and delicacy when we planted our memorial for Keren. We watched our dogwood through the months. Around Keren’s seventh birthday, the leaves fell, mourning the end of summer. On the first cold January anniversary, the tree’s branches stuck out straight and brown, bare of the red berries they bore at Christmas. April arrived trumpeting resurrection. I watched the tree. Each day I checked it. Each day it stood unchanged. Then one day I noticed woody knobs tipping some branches. On others, brown points cut through the ends of boughs. A month passed from knob to bloom. There were days I bit my lip to resist shrieking with impatience. I wanted to see the flowers! Other days I inspected each knob and point, marveling at the process of glory superseding lifelessness. The sharp-tipped branches forced out pairs of leaves, raised upward like hands in praise. The knobs expanded until they broke, quartered, and unfurled crosswise, not into petals, but four leaf-like bracts. At first these bracts twisted brokenly about the center. Yet life flowed and the bracts spread, flushed, and dimpled. They imitated petals, each set of four surrounding a crown of tiny yellow flowers. The tree held her wine-red blossoms to the clear blue spring sky.
I don’t know how many years it will be till I see Keren again. Life has charged on, bringing new challenges and changes. Our family has lived in a different country, and we now hail from East Texas where great dogwoods bloom in March, and the magnolia in front of our dining room blossoms in January, dropping pink petals as softly and slowly as the snow fell that day eleven years ago. Sometimes I long for our reunion with Keren—I want to see her flower! Other times I feel like God is forcing sharp points through bare branches in my life. Yet then there are days I am enthralled by the blossoms God is slowly unfurling in those of us who wait. Often they seem warped and broken, but someday our blooms and leaves will be complete.
When she was in fourth grade, Loren won a story-writing contest and decided that she’d grow up to be a writer. Since then God has led her into many roles, including six-and-a-half marvelous, stretching years as mom to Keren, who was born with Trisomy 18. Loren is wife to her Renaissance man, Kraig, and mom and teacher to their three kids (who stretch her differently than Keren did!). Loren also teaches Worldview and Bible to high schoolers in a homeschool coop, and adults at church. Through all these roles writing has been a source of hope, healing, and stress-relief. Loren lived most of her life in Michigan, but lived in Guadalajara, Mexico, for two years and now calls East Texas home. You can find more of her sporadic writing on her blog: Willing, Wanting, Waiting….
The mornings are getting darker, but this week, the air has been muggy – I’m waiting for the cool feather-touch of October winds. Every day brings treasures: tall pines casting long shadows against the gold of the setting sun, the rich smell of leaf-mold in the woods, and the reflections of trees glimmering green on blue water.
Last Friday night, I went to a lecture that gave a spiritual/psychological perspective on anger. The speaker said that anger reveals what you love – your self-image, time, possessions, or people. He used traffic as an example: if getting stuck in traffic angers you, that anger reveals your love for feeling in control.
Traffic has become a daily reality in this new place. In the north, I could shave off a few minutes by driving fast on the highway; here, my commute time could easily double with accidents, holiday weekends, or rain. And yes, I get frustrated. I view my time as my own, and hate it when I lose any.
I’ve discovered that I treat obstacles like traffic as if they will only happen once. After I finally get home, finish a dentist appointment, put away my groceries, or get my car oil changed, I can finally be free. But standing in a Walmart checkout line the other day, I began to realize that these daily irritants are not going away.
Under the fluorescent lights, as the cashier and current customer waited for a manager to come do something to the cash register, I tried to remind myself that I don’t have to become angry when I’m forced to wait. It takes so much strength to be gentle; but snapping every small frustration or injustice would embitter me.
I also remember being a cashier during summer jobs and continually making mistakes that forced customers to wait. Once, a woman with rich brown hair and a gentle smile didn’t complain once when she had to return to Barnes & Noble because I messed up her payment. A man with a round face and a plaid shirt watched me clumsily try to wrap his coffee table book, exclaimed “oh, dear,” and showed me how to wrap it properly.
As for traffic – as a young, anxious driver, I remember other drivers protecting me from my own mistakes, such as letting me into their own turn lanes at intersections at the last minute. Once, a driver in the parking spot across from me watched me struggle to park straight, and then backed out so I could pull through neatly into his space.
I promised myself then, and again now, I would try to treat people as those strangers treated me.
But I need to be motivated by more than memories of kindness: to be patient and gentle, I need to see clearly. Yesterday morning, I thought about the last creative writing class I took. Our first week was about Vision: trying to see the world not as ordinary or mundane, but as God’s spectacular Creation. Driving on the interstate this week, I tried to remember that every car crawling around me contained at least one immortal.
A true, cosmic perspective of the world is gentle and joyful. I can remember that in heavy Friday night traffic, long lines at the RMV, and in the cool woods as the dying leaves fall.