Small Things

The first snow of the year came on a Friday. There wasn’t much to it, really, just enough sparkle to pretty up the place. Most of it was gone by noon, except for a few places in the back yard where the ground had frozen overnight and daylight hadn’t hit hard enough to melt anything. I will have to wait until Spring for all that.

The trees in front have shed most of their leaves and when dawn breaks, I can see the hard outline of the branches against the gray blue sky. The hydrangeas and lilies have been cut to the quick and the old wooden tub where the herb garden grew has been put out back.  Leaves crackle underfoot releasing the scent of the earth and musk. Milkweed stand burst open, yawning white tendrils shiver in the breeze. Black eyed Susans bend thin, leafless. Yellow mums that were blooming on Monday froze on Thursday. Everything is getting smaller now.

I feel small, too.

My wedding ring swirls around my knuckles now that the humidity of summer and autumn has gone. I usually lose weight in the winter, noshing on roasted vegetables and drinking lots of hot tea. The ice cream store is closed now, but I’d rather eat a biscuit drenched in Barry’s Tea this time of year anyway.

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Just days before that first snow, I’d hiked up my britches and finished up the raking, putting piles of tiny pine cones in the wheel barrow. The tines of the rake scraped the ground hard. I lifted the rake and there in the debris was a tiny bird’s nest. Barely big enough to hold a walnut.

Perfectly round. Intricately woven.

What little bird could have made it?  Even the sparrow makes a bigger nest.

It is a marvel to me; how something so small could make something so intentional. So artful.

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I think of other small things and the power that lives within them.

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Salt.

A flame.

A child.

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A smile.

One. Kind. Word.

I’ve pulled the last of the geraniums from the window boxes. They’ve become hollow, gaping.  Like me, they need a re-filling. They need a promise. They need to be filled with a tangible hope that all has not gone to ashes for nothing.

In a landscape washed in browns and grays,  I look for red. My eyes narrow over the fields on Rte 11. They have become practiced in spotting winterberry tucked back into the swamps.

I love these little scarlet orbs, their blood-redness shouting against the dead things, “There is life here, still.” 

Sometime in late October I begin looking for them. This year I scan the fields near Quaker Ridge Road. Nothing. On my way back through town I eyeball both sides of Jordan Road. Barren. I think maybe the birds have gotten to them already. Finally, I spot a small bush tucked into the marshes not far from my house. I hurry home to get rain boots and branch cutters. Back in the woods and wading through mud and ice, small branches snapping back in my face, I lift the cutters as high as I can possibly reach and snip my winter bouquet. I grab some evergreens before heading home to fill the window boxes with something pretty again.

I go through this every year…looking for something beautiful in the decay. For weeks I anticipate the berries and wonder, maybe there won’t be a good crop this year. Maybe I will be too busy to get into the woods and I will miss them.

Then, suddenly, they’re there.  It’s as if they’ve come on the scene all at once, in all their red-coated glory.

I think about waiting and how small it can feel. When what you want takes a long time coming the waiting can shrink down into this thing that becomes a part of the fabric of your life, such a piece of the furniture of your soul that you forget when it finally arrives you will have to do some re-arranging.

You will need to make room for what’s coming.

This is Advent.

Adventus.  A Coming. A Visit.

He was so small, The Ancient of Days and The Lifter of my head, unable to lift His own when he came. His coming, His visit, had been foretold for so long that it became just another hope taking it’s sweet time getting here. For many it was easily missed.

Yet…Three Kings.

Three wise men narrowing the eye.

Scanning the heavens. Remembering the prophecies. Looking at both sides of the road.

Did they wonder if they had missed it? Did they ever think that maybe the timing was off? Yet…they kept looking. They kept moving forward.

They kept preparing for a holy visitation.

Red berries splashed against the bark of trees speaks of what happened when another red orb splashed against a splintered cross. They are a reminder that the One who said He is The Way, The Truth and The Life has come.

Advent helps us to look. It helps us to prepare. It helps us to truly believe before seeing.

It is the only way to wait for anything. It is the only way to celebrate the power of small.

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