You know spring is really here when St. Francis of Assisi and Our Lady of Guadalupe take their rightful places in my flower beds. There may not be any flowers yet, but once the statues are out there standing watch over the delicate green buds pushing up through the still-cold earth, it means full-fledged spring is just around the corner. And that thought warms my heart, despite the gray skies and cooler-than-usual temps today. (St. Francis is in charge of my front perennial garden, while Our Lady takes charge of the appropriately named Mary Garden in the back. A small St. Francis shrine statue will soon go up where our dog, Greta, and cat, Hamlet, are buried in the backyard.)
I spent the morning — when I should have been writing — outside doing what we upstate New York gardeners need to do at this time of year: pulling tons of dead oak leaves out of the holly shrubs and rhodedendrons and hydrangeas. It’s a pain-staking task that requires a lot of patience, something I don’t usually have in abundance. But, for some reason, I have more patience with my plants than I do with, say, my kids. Bent over picking leaves out of prickly holly one at a time is clearly a more difficult task than plucking dirty socks out of Olivia’s bedcovers and yet I don’t find it nearly as annoying. For me, gardening — even when it’s more about cleaning than planting — is meditative, restorative, prayerful. I love to rake and weed and generally putter around my yard, picking up sticks and looking for little plant treasures that I’ve never noticed before. (We have lots of endangered perennials around my house, so there’s always something to discover out in the backyard. I’ll post photos as things begin to bloom.)
As I raked and scooped and dug and carried, I soaked up the peace of being outside with no one else around, save for a brief encounter with a town worker who was apparently fixing the end of our front lawn where the snow plow left a scar. By the time I picked up Chiara two hours later, the yard showed a noticeable improvement as did my mood. I love this time of year when the garden is close to bare with little clumps of bright green here and there, showing the promise of what’s to come. So fitting for this time in the spiritual season too. The barrenness soon to give way to the fullness of new life. Even now, as I look out the window, a calm sense of satisfaction and anticipation comes over me at the sight of those sparse, neat beds of almost nothing.