It’s revitalizing to step away from things made with our own hands, and come outside to be surprised by the creative act in nature.
This is the year of our family’s first garden. Our first true yard, really.
When we moved into this house last year, our small plot of land was a wilderness of waist-high weeds, clumped earth, and one scrappy sunflower born from a handful of bagel seeds I tossed outside for the birds. We decided to try our hand at taming it.
For the past three months, the tenacious green emergence of life at the front and back of the house has changed the flow of our days. Every moment it feels like we’re waiting for the next thing to happen — and we do not know what it will be.
Early in the spring, we transplanted a small tree and then feared we had killed it. A week later, it bloomed out in clusters of tiny purple flowers. Meanwhile, a larger tree that we first met in full-leafed glory roused itself from winter with odd butterscotch spikes on each branch.
The gift of amateur gardening is that everything is new. Seeds sprouting in the dark of our basement are nothing short of miraculous; seeds sprouting in the weather-beaten, wind-lashed dirt of our backyard, doubly so. In the afternoon I walk slowly among yellow ladybugs and striped spiders looking for signs of the next stage, and I’m rewarded: one of the pepper plants has brought forth a single blossom, and a tomato plant, hiding its top behind a wooden stake, has two. So much of gardening, I find, involves the element of surprise amid constant waiting.
And as we wait — for the sprouting, for the blooming, for the rumored fruit of our labor — I feel more keenly how much lies out of my control. We are a generation for whom seedless watermelons and landing on the moon are old news, but I still don’t know whether the coming thunderstorm will pelt hail on my patch of dirt, or predict which of these neatly packaged seeds will germinate. I can only upend yogurt containers over the snapdragons and plant five cosmos seeds per hole, and watch.
There, from my lookout behind the sliding glass door, I see how revitalizing it is for us to step away sometimes: to grant ourselves the margin and purposeful leisure to turn from things made by our own hands, and come outside to be utterly surprised by the creative act in nature.
I hold an unabashed love of the arts, but at times, traveling between the dim spaces and the raging headlines of our world, I’m all too prone to accuse a given work of harboring deus ex machina(tions). Good does not always prevail in individual chapters of real life. Healing doesn’t always arrive the way we ask, the way we beg.
But even if I push some too-happy manmade ending away, I’m unable to deny that wizened seeds do shoot up life; that roots, stems, and petals unfurl in spite of my overbearing care or absent-minded neglect. I brace for hailstorms every morning for a week, but instead I spy marigolds budding on tattered stems, sweet onions uncoiling in abandoned rows. Outside, beauty still surprises, still lives — revealing not God “from the machine,” but His “eternal power and divine nature” (Rom. 1:20) — and in its myriad appearances, there is confirmation of the hope we profess and build into our stories, our plays, our songs, our paintings. The practice of gardening reminds me that we still have a divinely gifted right to be surprised with gladness, and that our own unfolding in a harvest-bound world isn’t finished.
Thus I am learning to slip my shoes on during my own battered and pressed days, to stoop under the hail cloth and tread carefully in the mulch.
Pruning, quieting, watching.
Waiting for the next thing to happen.
Amy Baik Lee is a writer with a background in Renaissance literature and a third culture childhood. She blogs at Sun Steeped Days.