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Freesia and the Long Haul

It was over 25 years ago that I had the mistaken idea that I could be a gardener.


I had yet to learn that the piece of land upon which I had planted myself belonged not to me but to itself and that it would grow what it wanted and only that. I had yet to learn that being a gardener requires not just intention and resources, but at least a little talent.  I had yet to learn that, contrary to what my elementary school teachers proclaimed, I can not be anything I want to be.


I have now learned all those things (along with plenty more) and, as a result, I carry around a little more cynicism, a little more suspicion, and a little more distrust than I did on the day I ordered the “perennial wildflower mix” from some catalog that had made its way into my mailbox.

The seeds came in a container that looked like a slightly obese Pringles can.   The photo on the outside was of a wide expanse of lavender and pink and yellow wildflowers, glowing in the light of a springtime sun.  The planting instructions were rolled up inside the can like a scroll of ancient wisdom, the type so tiny that I had to squint to read them.

It was some time, several months actually, before the enthusiasm that prompted my purchase returned and I made my way outside to put the seeds in the ground.   I chose the location upon which to scatter the Lilliputian seeds (The instructions were clear that there was no planting involved.), started hacking away at the grass-mostly-weeds with the tool, a cultivator, I had purchased specifically for the occasion, and discovered quickly that my knees were probably not up to much gardening.  

Still, I am nothing if not determined, so the dirt got turned up and the seeds scattered and watered and I rose from the posture of prayer with the idea that all my labor would be rewarded.

It was not.

Not that year.  Not the next year.  Or the next.  Or any of the following twenty years.

It is important to know when to give up and, eventually, I did.

But I never forgot.


One day about two weeks ago as Owen and I approached home from our walk down the river road, I got a glimpse of something yellow near the ground under the kitchen window.  It could have been anything – a Dollar General plastic bag from the bed of somebody’s pick-up truck was most likely – , but it wasn’t.  It was, in fact, a flower.

I was not shocked or startled.  I wasn’t even mildly surprised.  I was, as a Victorian novelist might say, bemused, that is, “slightly confused; not knowing what to do or how to understand something.”  

But it was not the flower (which I subsequently identified as freesia) about which I did not know what to do.  It was me.  

Twenty years is a long time.  A person can let go of a lot of things in twenty years, can turn a lot of corners, can pack up and put away a lot of dreams. 


I knelt down in front of the flower, its little face bobbing in the breeze like a cork on a pond.  I felt the corners of my mouth turn up into a smile and I felt something slowly dissolve in my chest.  Apparently, I had not given up, let go, put away.  Not completely.  Apparently, somewhere in the deepest part of me, as in Pandora’s box, there remained hope.


Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggeman says that hope is often grounded in memory.  In this case, I think, that grounding may be literal.  I may have given up my expectation, my anticipation, my longing, but my hope was just buried – along with the seeds –  surviving somehow for twenty years.  And coming back to life in accordance with its season.

I have kept tabs on the freesia, checked on it every day.  It has opened wider, grown taller, been joined by another long stem of sunshine-banana-lemon yellow loveliness.  And it is reminding me to hope.

“Hope,” wrote Emily Dickinson, “is the thing with feathers.”  It is also, I am learning, the thing with petals and pistils and stamens and stigmas.  

Copyright 2024

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