f Morning Rose Prayer Gardens: 07/01/2012 - 08/01/2012

Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer 2012 Compacted Soil

Compacted Soil

                I am surprised by a client’s property that has multiple soil types within the hundred acre site. I think about the earth under foot, about the microbes and all that is invisible to us that make the miracle of soil a thing that is able to sustain life.
There is wonder and amazement when I think about the soils of the earth. There are desert sands, rich bogs, nutrient filled clay, mysteriously dark topsoil, stagnant swamps, and frozen tundra,  just to name a few.
I think about my own interior landscape and its regions of soils, a topography that is as vast and undulating as that of the earth. The analogies and parables about soil are many, familiar, and worn. We have heard the expression about the Good Earth, barren soil, and the four soils of the sower in the Bible. There is another soil condition that is rarely considered when drawing on spirituality. It occurs from excessive and recurring pressure. Where all that is good and viable is pushed down and dies. It is called compaction.
Compaction is a condition farmers do their utmost to avoid, but can result if they do not attend to their fields properly. By working the fields too soon in the spring when the soil is wet, too frozen, or too “tender” to be tilled, the weight of the machinery compresses the soil below the surface. Of all agricultural situations, this is the most damaging to sustainability. Water cannot penetrate the compressed soil, nor plant roots, nor nutrients. The field has lost its tilth, which is the ability to support plant life. The resulting crop yields are minimal and resolving the problem of compaction is challenging. The farmer, as always, must forego expediency and remain attentive to the needs of the earth for it to be fruitful.
When soil becomes severely compacted it can no longer sustain life. It is no longer friable. The microbes and worms, and all the bacterium and earth-works that enliven and sustain the soil are no longer able to penetrate it. Think of an old dirt driveway where not even weeds or fungi can survive, it is beyond being a waste land, it is dead. This is a parched and barren piece of earth that no amount of tilling or amending with fertilizers can restore to support life. The very essence of its structure, at a molecular level, is beyond recovery. It can only be dug out, ground up, and tossed aside.
This analogy holds true for many individuals whose hearts have hardened. Their interior soil that should grow loving relationships has been destroyed. On their own without God, no amount of tilling and working will bring their hearts back to His intended purpose for it. Their hearts are impenetrable to all that is good, though goodness surrounds it on all sides.
God can still enter a hardened, compacted heart with slow and gentle persistence. Think of rain. A downpour on compacted soil will do nothing except run-off and dampen only the top few millimeters. Puddles form on the hard resistant surface and evaporate having never reached the interior.
A delicate persistent rain on compacted soil, impenetrable as it may be, as destroyed and incapable of responding to its true nature, this soothing incessant rain will penetrate. Gentle rain like truth sinks in and softens slowly. Once a heart is softened like the soil, God can amend.

Friday, July 20, 2012

2012 Summer Sweet


Being a work-study student in the 1980’s meant carrying a full class load of  16-18 credit hours and working 20 hours weekly for the university being attended. I was awarded this form of financial aid for two years as an undergraduate at Michigan State University before the Reagan Administration ended the program.
                Luckily the jobs I held were with the Botany Department. In the summer this included working the research arbors and orchards. I loved the opportunity to ride into the countryside on my knobby-tire ten-speed bike. With tools, water and lunch securely tied in the rear wire-baskets, and a straw hat slapping my back, I would ride along farm lanes and down dirt roads that led to the fields.
One early summer day I was chased down a hilly dirt path by a momma woodchuck. I had inadvertently ridden between her and her cubs. She charged, my legs shot up and out, and I screamed like a little girl. The bike sped down the bumpy slope with pedals spinning furiously. Amazingly, momma kept up for half the distance! When I finally came to a stop at the bottom, I laughed and cried from the exhilaration and fear.
The orchards of apples and vineyards of grapes were experimental pollen crosses. Once the fruit was collected for research in early autumn, what was left was free for the taking, and so I took.  There was a palm-sized apple that I loved best; coral colored, firm, sweet and when I bit into it, the juice ran down my arm like an overripe peach. It was considered a failure because within 48 hours of harvesting it turned soft and flavorless. I would pick and eat a couple of these apples as I worked, tuck a few in a bag for later that night, and repeat the process the next day until they were gone. I was forever after ruined for grocery store apples.
There were days that a graduate student and I would be out in the fields with the professor who was a consummate teacher. He would prattle on about growing trees and vines all the while we were working. I learned more about plants and soils from his casual conversations than I did in any of my classes. One of the lessons was about how a plant absorbs the flavor of the soil in which it grows.
Certain plants demonstrate this trait more than others. The taste of garlic, onions and grapes are affected by soil composition, especially grapes. Viticulture, the growing of grape vines, is considered a fine art that includes not only pruning, but also the location of the vineyard. Proper soil and land preparation are the keys to successful vine production and the first step toward obtaining good fruit.
If you are “into” wines, you are aware of how region, rainfall and horticultural practices all affect the taste. Soils vary by region. What is found in California or France is different than that of Michigan or Australia’s Hunter Valley. The soils are all suitable to fulfill the needs of the vine, yet each region will produce distinct differences in flavor.
There are similarities here to our fruitfulness, faith, and how we live and grow. God has placed us in different regions and we develop our roots of faith within that “soil.” Those of us growing up in rural areas working cattle or fields of wheat will express faith differently than someone from New York or Melbourne. We nurture our faith through different people and experiences which adds flavor to our expression of belief. Whether we grow up surrounded by reinforced concrete or open range, God’s fruit is still sweet and distinctly our own.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer 2012 Fallen and Flowering

 Fallen and Flowering 

                Agitated, annoyed and emotionally drained I needed the calming effect of a drive through the country. Riding in a car allows me to displace present and persisting mental challenges, and gives me a sense of “being away.”
                I headed north on a black-topped two lane road. It was a late spring morning and the clouds’ shadows were clearly defined. I watched them move across the fields and up the sides of bordering wind breaks and wood lots. I recalled a drive through the Smokey Mountains with a friend and watching the cloud shadows move up and down verdant slopes. My friend is an opera singer, and as I drove she practiced her music for an upcoming performance. The memory softens the hardness that I am trying to leave behind.
                I slowed the car as I came upon a pasture with a herd of Holstein milk cows. Their white markings contrasted against the black and glowed in the sunlight. Lowing softly they lumbered across the field. I smiled with the same delight as when I had bought the Lowell Herrero Holy Cow plate. He had painted Holsteins being herded by habited Benedictine Nuns across a furrowed field in a winter scene of farm buildings and heavy gray skies. I’m not a plate collector, but Holy Cow tickled me. I smiled as I watched the cows move away, looked at the pastoral scene a few seconds longer, and drove on.
                The road pointed straight to the distant horizon, no curves or hills. I passed farms and fields, homes and trees without notice or care. The low rumble of the car’s tires was soothing. Like a clothes dryers to babies or white noise for the sleepless, the rhythmic drone dulled my senses.
                I had been on the road for awhile when up ahead I saw a white flowering tree growing on a ditch-line slope. Its shape was odd and from a distance I thought it a very large shrub. As I neared I saw the tree had been broken in two. The sight of a tree split in half is not uncommon, but to see one split like this and flowering profusely was a reason to stop.
                The shattered tree was not fully matured, but still a good size. The trunk was split right down the center and half of the tree rested on the ground. What catastrophic event had assaulted it? What had broken it to its core, leaving it forever contorted? I parked the car. I wanted to touch this tree.
                I walked into the ditch and looked up the incline. I had a clear view of the tree’s trunk. The side closest to the road was smooth and had a silvery sheen. The center gash had large slices of exposed wood fanning out connecting the twisted, grounded portion. I tried to determine if it had been snow and ice that caused the break, or maybe lightning or a wind sheer. I decided it didn’t matter what had caused the damage, it was a wonder the tree had lived at all.
                The leaves on both halves were shiny and fully developed. I thought that there would be some distortion to their growth, at least on the damaged side. The prolific flowers were fragrant and newly opened. I could hear the buzzing of excited bees as they whirled, dizzily gathering pollen. By the looks of it, the tree would bear fruit and feed the community of birds or any number of wildlife.
Taking a few steps towards the tree I bent down under the flowering limbs and closer to its scarred frame. The wound was old, partially healed over and not as ugly with infection as I thought it would be. I was tentative about placing my finger tips, and then my palm against the smooth bark, but felt emotionally lighter after having touched its disfigured trunk.
The tree’s life had been shortened by the wounding; the damage had caused unexpected stress to its growth. Standing before that tree I was in awe because, though severely broken and damaged, it lived, and as it lives it flowers and bears fruit. I wondered if those of us who have been deeply wounded, and who are working with God to manage our pain, are living examples as beautiful and fruitful as this tree.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Summer 2012 The Lord's Candlestick

 The Lord’s Candlestick

I don’t like being wounded in the garden. I get annoyed when I give gentle loving care to my herbaceous buddies and they assault me.
I am often impaled by certain plants in the garden and try to give them a wide berth when pulling weeds.  Roses are the worst offenders and only earn my graces and a place in the garden if they flower prolifically, are not devoured by Japanese beetles, will survive harsh winters without cone covers and have built in defenses against fungal disease. If you’re a rosarian you know how few bushes will survive my criteria.
Raspberry bushes are another assailant. Black raspberry jelly was a regular and highly sought treat that my grandmother and I made for Christmas gifting. She and I would pick berries every year over the Fourth-of-July weekend. The berries always ripened on the fourth, which as a teenager I found disruptive to my social agenda. But worse than feeling indentured over the holiday, was armoring myself for protection from the thorny, fruited canes; laced shoes, thick Levi jeans, and heavy long sleeved shirts were essential. I appreciated the cloth barrier protecting me against the thorns, but it was often sunny and near 90 degrees. I was usually a sweaty mess before I ever reached the berry patch behind the garage.
The one assailant that I’d often forget about was the Yucca, also known as The Lord’s Candle Stick, St. Johns Palm or Graveyard Ghosts. In rural Appalachia they are regionally known as “meat hangers” for a very good reason. The tough fibrous leaves with their sharp tips were used to puncture meat and then knotted to form a loop with which to hang the meat for curing in smoke houses.
More than once I yelped when my bare legs were pricked by the Yucca’s pointy tipped leaves. On one occasion while mowing, I had been wounded once too often by a plant located near the edge of the lawn. Retaliation was meted out with a saw and spade, and the plant remained shriveling in the middle of the drive for weeks!
I love the architectural beauty of Yucca plants and their striking four to five foot stalk of creamy-white flowers. I had come to appreciate these handsome plants on a deeper level one day in early August, the month in Catholic tradition dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ.
It had been a cool summer and most of the perennials were flowering later than usual. I was cleaning up a small bed along the driveway that rarely needed attention. It was an established bed of scarlet Meidiland roses, Yuccas, coral daylilies and a long blooming cultivar of bright yellow yarrow. I was gingerly pulling the neighbor’s intrusive blue-flowering vinca vine from between rose canes and lance shaped leaves of the Yucca. Like most gardeners while working in a garden, I mentally process situations in my life. I think out possible options to issues and pray for those who come to mind. Often I have a note-pad and pen nearby for those God moments of inspiration that lead to later reflection—as this story did.
Yucca filamentosa
Kneeling on a pad in the driveway, resting one hand on the mulch, I reached in repeatedly with the other to remove the vine from between the Yucca leaves. Absentmindedly I stabbed my arm on one of the tips. I pulled back with a low murmur of pain, looked up at the massive flowering stalk and intended to have a short disgruntled conversation with God. Instead He decided to have a moment with me.
There, three feet over my head, against a clear, bright-blue sky was a glowing white oblong shape of flowers. I imagined I could almost see Jesus wearing his luminous white robes in the Transfiguration as it was told in the Bible. I was captivated, not too unlike the apostles, I’m sure.
The incongruity of the radiant flowers rising from the earthly whorl of piercing lance-shaped leaves reminded me of Jesus’ brief life. How his presence was wholly incongruent with this world. How he too would be pierced, and by a lance, and would rise past the violence and pain.
Through all this—the transfiguration and the passion—we were shown by Our Lord a way to be “of God” and not just for God. How we can live in a world of piercing sharpness that is discordant and not in harmony with the soul’s desire to be illuminated and illuminating. 
I studied the Yucca for a moment longer knowing my soul had become a little brighter from the small revelation. I knew on that day I would never see the Yucca in the same way again and never have.
Intending to return to my task of clearing vinca from the lance shaped leaves I noticed the flowering stalk was shading my face; a nice touch to end the lesson. The transfigured Jesus stands between me and the hot-white light of God. I reached for my notepad and pen, captivated again.