A heavy snow fell yesterday. Perfect for sledding, for coating fence rails just so, for catching on a small boy’s tongue. It made a lovely backdrop for my white amaryllis, just coming into full bloom. I love the snow for its beauty and for the lovely weight of silence it imposes – and also for enforcing a sort of neighborliness, where people shovel each other’s walks and push each other’s cars from drifts. I have neighbors I only talk to after it snows.
But the snow also took down the wire delivering Internet to the house, shattered my car’s back window, and tore limbs from all of the neighborhood magnolias. And by this morning the pure sheet of white that was my back porch is pocked with yellow holes where Otis the Tenderfooted prematurely relieved himself, too wimpy to go down to the yard.
I am realizing that I am drawn to gardening largely because beauty and fruitfulness are entwined with ugliness and death. All my attempts to reconcile the beauty and goodness of life with the suffering and evil that goes along with it have failed to deliver a satisfying answer. But in the garden, where the drama of life and death and decay is repeated in an annual lesson with beings that can commit no sin, I begin to learn the lessons religion might teach me, if it could, if I would let it. A magnolia may be torn open in January, its newly bare trunk gashed and ugly against the snow, but come spring it will set buds and bloom on its remaining limbs, and send up new shoots to replace the ones it lost. I am afraid to see what lesson that might have for me – perhaps that one can endure unimaginable pain and yet live and bloom – because it would require me to acknowledge the unbearable possibility of loss.