Are you there, Spring? On this first official day of the new season, our area has been granted bright sunshine, if little accompanying warmth. No complaints, here, though. After so many sodden, gray days, some blue sky is a dazzling, welcome vision.
Considering the prevailing March chill, it’s hardly a surprise that our Northern Virginia spring is not off to a particularly showy start. It’s wisely hesitant, biding its time. I’ve seen a few daffodils in bloom, although none in our yard. Our hyacinths are sending up spiky green shoots. The redbud is clearly in no rush.
Around our little local lake, most trees retain the stark wintery guise they’ve worn since January. Only the buds of the maples provide a wash of rosy color.
Pounding rain and high winds are predicted here in the days ahead. Wherever you are, may you find some sunshine to savor. And may you trust in the promise of spring.
It’s a bitterly cold Ash Wednesday here in Northern Virginia, as in much of the country. An icy breeze whips up from time to time. But the sun is shining brightly, and at least for a brief while, nothing frozen is falling from the sky. The weather seems appropriate. It’s conducive to imagining the joy and beauty of an ideal Easter morning while experiencing the big chill of Ash Wednesday. This is a day for a clear-eyed, head-on look at our mortality, a time to peer into the bleakness of what would have been, had it not been for God’s saving grace. It marks the start of Lent, the forty-day period leading up to Easter, during which prayer, repentance and self-denial are encouraged. Lent’s Biblical basis is Christ’s retreat to the wilderness to commune with the Father in preparation for his ministry.
So what’s the deal with the ashes? Why the messy smudges on foreheads of neatly dressed and otherwise well-scrubbed people? It’s because of these words from Genesis 3:19, declared by God to Adam and Eve, just before He ushered them out of Eden, the paradise garden He had intended as their eternal, blissful home.
You are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Tough words from the Creator and Landlord. What did the privileged First Couple do to make God so angry? Incensed enough that He sent the two, created in His own image, out into desolation, to eke out a living through toil and pain?
Many of you who didn’t grow up attending church and Sunday School, along with some of you who did, no doubt consider the saga of Adam and Eve just another myth for the simple-minded. Whether you see it as God’s literal Truth, an interesting folk tale or something in between, it’s a powerful story worth contemplating. Here’s my take on the Fall and its particular significance on Ash Wednesday.
Adam and Eve lived in a glorious garden created by God, suffused with His divine light, life and love. They had full-time leisure, full-time luxury. God walked with them there in the garden. The trees dripped with delicious treats, theirs for the easy picking. All except for the apples on one tree. A tree with an impressive-sounding name: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Life was wonderful. Life was beautiful.
Among the friendly and fantastic creatures of the garden, there was a serpent. He was wise and wily, and he knew about that whole free-will thing. Indeed, he owed his very existence to what he saw as the weak link in God’s great plan. The serpent looked with contempt upon the innocent contentment of the two humans. He realized the fragility of the thread that kept them in their lovely home. It wasn’t long before this scaly Con Guy Supreme made his move. Appealing to Eve’s pride, he offered an opportunity for further greatness. Knowledge equal to God’s was at her fingertips, but God selfishly chose to keep this power to Himself. She deserved better, didn’t she? So Eve ate from the tree. Adam, who apparently needed no convincing, munched long complacently.
God found out. He wasn’t happy. Paradise was lost, for the taste of a forbidden fruit. We may think we would have known better. But probably not. Like Eve, we might have been tripped up by pride. Or maybe, like Adam, we might have given very little thought to the matter. If Eve says it’s fine, it must be. In simply thinking we would have known better, it’s evident that we would not have. With free will comes the ability to make the wrong choice, a choice we tend to exercise repeatedly. Like Adam and Eve, if left to our own devices, our fate would be to wander in the dust.
But we are not abandoned, without hope, in a barren land. Paradise is still within our grasp, as these words from Mark 1:15 tell us:
Repent and believe the good news!
On Ash Wednesday, we confront the grim reality of our tendency toward pride, selfishness and petty meanness. On our own, none of us will ever be good enough to work our way back to Eden. But we don’t have to be. The Christ that was already present within creation since God spoke the universe into existence, the very Word of God described in John 1: 1 – 5, came to earth in human form. Jesus, fully divine yet fully human, took our sins upon Himself. As the spotless Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice, He wiped our messy slates clean.
To accept Christ’s free gift of salvation, we merely need to acknowledge our wrongheadedness and to ask forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is granted for our willingness to repent; it’s not contingent on our going forward without a misstep. We are human; we will stumble and lose our way at times. We cannot be perfect in this lifetime, but we can desire to achieve perfection.
The Ash Wednesday ashes are marked on the forehead in the shape of a cross, the instrument of death that became the tree of life. Christ’s good news saves us from a future of ashy, dusty nothingness, replacing it with the promise of unimaginable joy in a paradise everlasting. We can’t even comprehend unending joy; our flawed human nature prevents us. But we will understand it fully, and magnificently, one day, I am convinced.
On this frigid Ash Wednesday, the sun’s rays fall on new green shoots and buds. We are reminded of the new life that comes of death, of the new birth offered to us without price. On this Ash Wednesday, look into the darkness of the ashes. Then give thanks for the love that pulls us back into the light of love.
March has arrived, dressed in February’s old, well-worn clothes. More light snow fell here during the night, enough to delay school yet again. Skies are cloudy and the temperature won’t rise much above freezing today. But change is underfoot, and in the air. The daffodils I planted last October are sending up their bright green sword-like foliage. Our old maple trees are budding, as are the gray honeysuckle vines. In the bird world, the cardinals and sparrows, stalwart winter soloists, are joined by choruses of other eager voices, especially in the early mornings. Flocks of robins are feasting on luscious worm banquets offered by thawing lawns. The squirrels, always lively even on the coldest days, seem to be stepping up their festive play. Their high-wire acts among the branches are ever more frequent, ever more daring. Spring may be in no hurry to make an early entrance, but it’s definitely waiting in the wings.
This February here in Northern Virginia has conformed to its traditional designation as the month of snow. Unfortunately, if appropriately, the full February super Snow Moon on the 19th was just a lighter smudge in the snow-making clouds. On Wednesday, as predicted, the white stuff began falling steadily in the pre-dawn hours and continued throughout the day.
However, it also snowed in Charlottesville. Snowfall rarely prompts The University of Virginia to cancel classes, but it happened this week. Wild Trumpet Vine has never before featured photos of the gracious old UVA grounds covered in snow. That’s now possible thanks to my student contact. So, from my daughter, who assured me that she wouldn’t miss a moment of study time for her thermodynamics test, here are some images of the Rotunda and the Lawn.
Our daughter is now twenty and in her second year at UVA. I find myself missing her more than ever recently. And today, as I look through the charming old cards we’ve saved from her childhood, I wish I were on my way to pick her up from preschool so we could enjoy a celebratory afternoon together. My favorite Valentine’s Days were those when my daughter was a toddler. See Fool-proof Valentine’s Days, a post from 2012.
I also have cozily pleasant memories of making Valentines with my mother throughout my elementary and middle school years. The preparation was the high point. The actual day tended to disappoint. Young love, for me, as for many, was elusive and unrequited. See The Best Part of Valentine’s Day: Before the Day.
On this Valentine’s Day, I wish you comfort, love and happiness. Don’t fall prey to the hype. Those false expectations of perfect romance are set by merchandisers hoping we’ll buy into hollow dreams. Instead, call a friend, make a card, spend an hour with a child or an elderly person. Someone out there may need you to be their Valentine.
Three days ago we had more snow in Northern Virginia. We were treated to the Bichon Frise of snowfalls: pretty, petite, very fluffy, and generally non-threatening.
It frosted tree branches and fence railings with crystals of sparkly white.
Accumulation was minimal, only about two inches, so clearing walkways was an easy task. No snow blowers required.
At my mother’s house, the fluffy white of the tree branches anticipates the cherry blossoms that should bloom in a few months.
When I walked Kiko on Tuesday evening, the snow had ceased and the temperature remained pleasantly frosty.
But the bitter cold was on its way. The polar vortex, which has relentlessly gripped the middle of the country in its icy iron fists, has extended its reach to the east coast. On Wednesday, temperatures were falling. The TV weather people talked breathlessly about the extreme “feels like” temperatures we were to expect, due to wind chill. And sure enough, the wind was soon rattling the windows of our old house and making ghost-like moans, such as can be heard in Scooby-Doo episodes. As Kiko and I walked that afternoon, the wind caught up the fine dry snow and tossed it along the road, looking like white sand whipping across a Florida Panhandle boardwalk before a thunderstorm.
Even on grassy areas, the snow looked like beach sand carved by a fierce wind.
Kiko glanced up anxiously each time a car passed, slowly negotiating the frozen surface. The sounds made by tires shattering glass-like ice chunks were improbably loud, akin to fireworks or gunshots. The sweet little Bichon that appeared on Tuesday is turning mean. Seeking revenge for being left out in the cold, maybe?
Wednesday morning, when we walked around 8 AM, the wind had died down, but the temperature was 3. Of course, that’s balmy compared to the sub-zero deep freeze that the mid-west has been experiencing. (No need here yet to set the train tracks on fire as they’ve been doing in Chicago.) I wore my dog-walking layers and several creatively tied wool scarves. (My hair actively rebels against every cold-weather hat I’ve ever tried.) Kiko’s lush, cashmere-like undercoat has grown back after his summer molt. This year my senior dog has become content with a shorter walk when the weather is less comfortable. On days like today I’m grateful that he is no longer compelled to traverse the entire neighborhood on frigid mornings. Until recently, we put in at least a couple of miles no matter what the weather. (See Baby, It’s Cold Outside! from January 7, 2014.)
This morning, a light snow is falling again. The temperature has warmed up considerably, to 17. I let Kiko persuade me to venture out of our immediate neighborhood to the stretch of old country road where we begin our usual walks with the pack in decent weather (when schools aren’t delayed or canceled, as they’ve been much of this week.) The roads didn’t look particularly threatening, and there would be less traffic with no school. But before long, I realized our error. Kiko slipped on an icy patch hidden by new snow. He recovered quickly and didn’t appear to be hurt. His preference is to walk in the street, and it’s always a struggle to keep him safely on the grassy shoulder. Today it was an absolute necessity. Several times I almost went down. Kiko knows what it means when I yell “Slow! Slow!” in my most authoritative pack leader voice. He doesn’t like it, but he understands, and he even obeys. He lives in the moment, so I kept up the commands each time we were forced to cross a street or driveway. Under great emotional duress, we made it to Kiko’s favorite nearby park and back without physical mishap. It was, to say the least, not an enjoyable outing for either of us. It’s also an understatement to say that I had dressed far too warmly.
A reminder to everyone this winter: beware the worst threat of the cold: ice lurking beneath fresh powder. The lesson of the Bichon Frise of snows is this: enjoy its congenial, lap-dog charm. Bask in its pure white fluffiness. But don’t be surprised when, a few days later, it turns nasty. It will still look beautiful and easy-going. You’ll think it’s your old familiar friend. But without warning, it may have unleashed the ice-veined coyote-hyena hybrid that dwells within.
Our first big snow of the new year arrived like a polite and thoughtful visitor: with plenty of advance notice and on a weekend, allowing time to prepare. We even managed, for the first time ever, to put two cars in the garage. Here in Northern Virginia, it was a modest, unobtrusive snowfall; the flakes were often so fine as to be barely visible. But it was persistent, steadfast. By Sunday morning, about seven inches had accumulated. That afternoon, there was a brief lull, prompting my husband to break out the snow blower too soon. Well into the evening, the flakes floated down, tiny and delicate. Our final total was ten inches. A perfect amount, it turns out, for Kiko to romp through with ease and zest.
After our cool, wet spring, the drenching, unrelenting rains of a warm fall, followed by an arctic blast and snow in early November, it was refreshingly odd to experience a taste of weather that actually suited the current season. A deep but manageable snow in mid-January! How quaint! How so last century! And how very pleasant!
It was the perfect snow. The only thing less than ideal was that our daughter, who appreciates frozen precipitation in every form, couldn’t be here to enjoy it with us. She was home for nearly a month, but the winter break had drawn to a close, too quickly. On Saturday morning, well before the first snowflake appeared, she was on her way back to Charlottesville to begin the second semester of her second year.
I’m thankful that my furry child completed his formal education years ago (a few weeks of puppy training, which had a negligible effect on his behavior) and remains home to keep me company.
During the height of pre-Christmas hubbub, as the humans in our household fret the fine points of preparing for the season, Kiko maintains his air of customary quiet serenity.
He is the tranquil eye of our holiday storm.
He gifts us with his presence as we wrap gifts.
Kiko keeps calm as we carry on.
This December I’m taking Kiko’s comforting presence to heart. I’ll step back from the edge when I feel myself about to plunge into holiday overdrive. My gifting will focus less on those who have everything and more on those who have little. I will say no to some proposed, supposedly festive activities. Our Christmas cards will become New Year’s cards, sent out in early January. Maybe mid-January.
I’d like to hold my little dog up as some kind of spiritual mentor. I could pretend that he’s a holy fellow, engaged in prayerful contemplation, actively resisting the rampant secularization of Christmas. Clearly, Kiko abides “in that place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God,” as in the words of a favorite hymn.
But I know he simply enjoys a good snooze. Apparently, as a senior dog, he needs to sleep more now than during his teen years. And should he wish to help with gift-wrapping or cookie-making, he lacks the hands to do so.
But my handsome dog, lying in sweet repose, reminds me that I can allow myself a time-out. Every once in a while, I join him on the sofa for a nap.
Typically, Kiko endures my company for only a short while. Then he gets up, stretches, shakes vigorously and resettles on the floor. Please, he says, don’t mistake his desire to snooze for a need to cuddle. Unless there’s a chance of thunder, of course.