When I was younger my Aunt Sis was notorious for her plants,
“I put ‘em in the ground and then after that they’re on their own.”
We were standing in her yard across from my Mam-maw’s house, I was maybe thirteen. She had flower beds and shrubs of nearly every variety of the annual variety, hence the vowing of independence she spoke over her plant life. As she dug in the ground and planted she would teach me the difference between a Japanese Iris and a standard Iris. She had gobs of Irises and buttercups. She would thin out and redistribute those tubers because,
“They [Irisis] don’t do as well all bunched up together.”
My Mama had less gardening time in her younger years and in mine, but did have an uncanny ability to call a botany kind of roll. As we drove down the road or passed patches of wildflowers she would point out Queen Anne’s Lace, Oak Leaf Hydrangeas, Trumpet Vines, and Tiger Lilies also known as “Ditch Lilies.” We would occasionally go to the Leath’s Greenhouse (and I honestly thought it was Leaf’s Greenhouse because that made sense in my head) and she would name marigolds, zinnias, Asteraceae, daisies, (Shasta Daisy’s were her sister Margaret’s favorite.)
I learned to recognize the frequent and familiar. Azaleas were a familiar and over time I have come to love a wild azalea more so than a not wild azalea, the distinction was never given to me but I can recognize the difference in the two varieties. The wild azalea has a large open bloom, they tend to be pale pastel in color, and in my imagination look like little floppy hats perched on the ends of the branches.
I am much like Mama and now I do the same. My children show about as little interest as I did back then and I figure perhaps that limited knowledge of roadside plants is somewhere taking root on their memories.
Nowadays mama and I will ride down the road and have a ten minute conversation about it being too early for ditch lilies and not soon enough for the Shasta Daisies. Tiger Lillies always bloom “during Vacation Bible School time” Mama said, “they just seem too early to be blooming right now.” I agreed as we drove on and thought maybe time was passing by at breakneck speed or perhaps the mild winter could account for their early bloom.
When we stopped the car and made our way down a steep embankment to a gorge that opened with a waterfall on the left and a creekbed of rapids on the right we both were taken aback by the sheer beauty of it. The hike down had been as Mama declared “treacherous.” I had almost abandoned the mission as the Martin 3, my 11-year-old niece, Mama, and I scrambled and scooted our ways to the bottom. I was glad that I had not abandoned the mission before we were able to see the beauty before us.
As the younger members of our party played, mama and I sat in amazement of the green lush and the cool and shade made by the rock overhangs. We pointed out particularly fascinating or eye catching things to one another. We sat on rocks and fallen trees, we picked up rocks shaped like things, a perfect isosceles triangle, a unicorn horn, a heart. The water was cold, ice cold and the rocks not nearly as slick as some creek rocks with which were familiar. The falls rumbled and roared so we had to talk louder than normal, yet in the midst of it all was such a peacefulness.
“Look at that.” She pointed to our left and above us, there was what appeared to be a beautifully blooming wild azalea suspended over the water. We determined we could not definitively call it an azalea because while the blooms looked that way, a bush it was not. It was more spindly and vine like and hung upside down growing toward the water, rooted in the rock cliff. I wondered out loud if it had been a recent storm victim having been pushed down by violent winds and left to die uprooted, tangled and hanging inverted. Mama said she didn’t think so and as we sat some more and hiked a bit more I realized that it would’ve looked deader had that been the case.
“How do you reckon that even happens?” Mama was a few steps ahead of me. She paused and said, “I guess when you’re a little acorn and you take root, you don’t really pay attention to the direction.” I thought about that and how despite the circumstances, the odds unfavorable to that suspended plant it continued to thrive and that perhaps its longing for water, thirst for the essential, superseded what seemed the likely, reasonable, or even possible direction of growth.
I determined I want to be like that unlikely upturned beauty. So desperate for water, Living Water, that I am willing to defy the rules dictated to me to achieve such beautiful growth. Clinging so closely to the Living Water that I am hardly aware of the anxiety producing circumstances around me. I want to cling so closely to Christ that I am hardly moved when the storms of life do their best to tear me down.