Renewal in the Garden and Elsewhere

The snowpocalypse that hit Austin, Texas and its environs this past February claimed lives, damaged a number of homes and apartments, and thoroughly disrupted a large metro area’s way of life. It also killed plenty of plants and foliage. Prickly pear cacti – decades old and producing sublime yellow blooms every spring – turned to mush. Agave spines laid limp on the ground. Trimmed of these damaged spines, the large succulents with their remaining upright middle spines seemed to defiantly give the storm a one-fingered salute. But alas, the salute was short-lived. Many of these spines also slumped to the ground, unable to defy death.

At our South Austin home after the snow finally melted, a mature rosemary bush revealed itself as lifeless and brown. Three lady banks vines, typically lush with miniature white and yellow roses each spring, did the same. A favorite of mine, perennial portulaca grandiflora plants (moss roses) with delicate flowers of magenta and white, relishing the heat the previous fifteen summers in a rectangular patch of earth in our front yard, didn’t wake from their typical winter dormancy.

A generation ago, the Austin area was in Region 8 on the USDA’s climate zone map with a low temperature range down to 10* Fahrenheit. Because of warming temps in the last twenty years, we’re now in Region 9, with the low temperature range at 20*. For those, like me, filling vacated spots in yards and flower gardens with new plants, our options have narrowed. Newly placed plants must be hardy enough for the increased colder and hotter extremes on either end of the continuum.

As a pastor, I look to biblical stories for wisdom to help understand current realities. Even though the snowpocalypse and the Covid pandemic are unrelated events, their concurrence and commonality of deadly havoc will make them forever linked for Austin-area residents.

After Jesus’ death at the hands of all-powerful Rome, his disciples feared for their own lives. The catastrophe of Jesus hanging to death on a cross, the Roman instrument of capital punishment, terrified them and left them frozen in fear. Devastated and scared, they holed up together in isolation.

Luke’s gospel tells us that in the midst of the disciples’ collective anxiety, Jesus – as if a ghost – appeared to them. Initially, as we can imagine, his appearance didn’t quell his friends’ skittishness.

“Do you have anything to eat?” The disciples gave their guest some broiled fish which he consumed. His presence was real. His presence gave peace and assurance, a remedy for their fear and angst. Life was shown forth to conquer death – even an incredibly cruel death like his. They looked at Jesus and saw life and renewal.

“You are witnesses of these things,” he said to them. Death does not have the final word. Neither does the pandemic, we can add, nor the snowpocalypse.

I’m fortunate to be of such circumstances to renew life to my yard and garden. I’ll replant and reseed according to the new climate realities. I loved having pomegranate trees, bougainvillea, and an ocotillo bush in my yard the past decade or so, but those days are now but memories. I’ll have to travel to South Texas or Mexico or Big Bend to see these beloved species for their displays of spring blooms – magnificent, colorful and glorious.

We know that it’s not just yards and gardens that are in need of renewal. People’s livelihoods and their very lives, as the pandemic reaches fifteen months, have been ravaged. Renewal will be our communal work for some time to come.

Food pantries need donations and volunteers, renters and landlords need financial and legislative support, unhoused neighbors need a helping hand, children and schools need support of all kinds, and elderly neighbors need someone to say hello to them and bring groceries or other necessities. There’s plenty of renewal work to do anywhere you look.

One last glance at my yard reveals that a number of roses, sage, a sago palm, a Carolina jasmine, and two of the lady banks – after being pruned of dead foliage – are putting out new shoots from the ground. Life goes on, crazy as it seems, with or without us. Renewal is what we do with the life that we still have. Strength and perseverance to all who work together for renewal.

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