Last month, Jon and I moved into our new home. We have quickly become adjusted to the new place–unconsciously memorizing the new locations for our cookware, learning how much to turn the faucet handles for the right temperature, and forming a peaceful routine of nightly knitting while we listen to audio books. We’ve served our first dinner guests, played games at the kitchen table, and broken soil in the front yard to build a mailbox garden.
The place that I was most hesitant about when we moved was the backyard. The home was comfortable, needing only little changes. But the yard is small. Coming from my parents’ home, which sat on five acres of green with a barn and horses and chickens, I didn’t know how I would handle transitioning to less than half an acre. Not only was it small, but it had not been taken care of by the previous owners. It’s clear that they had a dog, which seemed to worsen the erosion caused by the hard clay and slight hill in the back. Half of the yard is eroded below tree roots with no grass to hold it together when it rains. The first time I saw this, I could only think about the problems I would have with gardening and making a beautiful place for us to rest.
But once the deal was signed and we were moving in, I only felt grateful. I chose to be positive, and that’s when I began seeing the abundance that I had missed before.
I’ve walked every inch of the yard, identifying trees, checking soil, seeing what kind of plants grow where. Along the fence-line, we found a rose bush we had missed before, which has since bloomed several pink flowers, and from which I hope to harvest rose hips for tea.
Several other plants have surprised me. Two crepe myrtles, which have beautiful smooth bark, stand at each end of our background. Behind the deck is another tree that took me some time to identify, but which I learned recently is actually my favorite spring blooming tree–a Japanese Cherry Blossom. In the front yard behind the bay window, blocking the neighborhood, is a pear tree that will bloom white in spring.
There was already abundance here, but now I can see all that I can do to nurture and build onto what is here. The hard, barren soil is an opportunity for regeneration and new growth. I have been interested in regenerative agriculture for some time, and now I can practice it, taking a small space where nothing grows and turning it into something abundant. Last week, I planted winter rye along the eroding fence line. The grass is already growing. By spring, the roots will have dug 18 inches deep into the clay, breaking it up, halting erosion, and pulling up nutrients for future plantings.
Below the cherry tree where the soil is grassless, we’re letting the leaves stay where they fall to decompose into rich soil. In the front yard, we trimmed back landscaping plants that will become organic matter and mulch for our gardens and compost. Every compostable kitchen scrap is added to our compost pile where it will naturally break down into nutrient-rich soil for our plants.
The process will be slow and hard, but it is the kind of work I love to do, and every time I work I think about how we are building a beautiful place for ourselves and for wildlife where the ground had no life.
When I think about this, I understand why God first placed us in a garden. I used to think that I had to live on a farm to follow His call to nurture. But living here has shown me that it’s possible to take part in the call to creation no matter where we are. We can be in an apartment in a city and still grow plants at our windows or on our rooftops. Inside, I have plants at my own windows and two doves who rely on me for their survival. Here, in my neighborhood, I hear the birds sing. I see the insects that creep along the ground. I see worms in the soil. I see deer behind the fence-line, watching.
Gratitude fills me as I notice this abundance, and gratitude allows me to recognize it.
I don’t see these things as “blessings” themselves, as though I am more blessed by God than others who have nothing. Instead, I see the seeing as the blessing. The gratitude itself, and the holy imagination that allows me to see the possibilities–these are the blessings. I am grateful for the gratitude.
This gratitude, I think, is what spurs generosity. Gratitude allows me to see the abundance rather than the scarcity. When we see this abundance, we no longer want to hoard what we have for ourselves. I think this is what Jesus meant in Matthew 6 when he told us not to worry about our food and clothing. With only a few loaves and fishes and a prayer of thanksgiving, Jesus fed thousands. This is the ongoing miracle of gratitude.
We need less than we think, and there is abundance–and the possibility of abundance–all around us.