Oh, how I hated our backyard. No, that’s too weak a word. I loathed that yard.
When my husband, Mike, and I first saw this house one winter years earlier, we were charmed. There was antique wallpaper in every room, natural wood molding, even an old-fashioned pantry just off the kitchen.
But the yard was…so small. No room for a swing set or monkey bars for our kids, Kate and Andy, when they got older. No room for our Lab, Hudson, to play. Can’t have everything, I thought, staring at the snow-covered ground.
Anyway, we loved the house. We’d live in there, not the yard, right? So we decided to go ahead and buy it.
The first warm day after we’d moved in, the kids wanted to go out to play. Winters in upstate New York bring along lots of cabin fever. I wanted to get out and get some fresh air too.
We put on jackets and headed out back. What the…? The snow had melted, leaving one lonely little patch of muddy ground smack in the middle of a sea of asphalt. Who in their right minds would pave over their yard?
“Let’s go to the park instead,” I told Kate and Andy.
Mike thought the yard got too much shade for grass to grow. Granted, it was lined with tall trees, and the garage blocked out the sunlight too. “Well, I don’t care. We’ll try it anyway,” I announced. I seeded that pathetic patch of earth.
The grass never really took, no more than a few scraggly tufts. It looked like the head of a middle-aged man who didn’t even have enough hair for a comb-over.
I tried praying about it, but gave up after a while. What’s the point? I thought. God had bigger fish to fry. Besides, what did I expect? He wasn’t going to change the earth’s orbit just so my crummy yard could get more sunlight. If he didn’t care, I wouldn’t either, I decided.
I began avoiding the backyard as much as possible. The only time I’d set foot in it was to hang laundry out to dry. The kids played in the park. Our Lab got his exercise on long walks. And in the summer, we picnicked at the kitchen table.
It took me about a minute to rake the leaves that first fall. Kate and Andy took turns jumping into the pile. More of a bump than a pile, really. The kids didn’t know what they were missing. A real backyard had swings, a fort, maybe even a swimming pool. Instead, ours was like a dirty parking lot with a clothesline.
It wasn’t even much good for that. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I had to wash something all over again because it had blown off the line and landed in the dirt. But seeing a white towel crumpled in the far corner of the yard one spring day was the last straw.
Figures! I thought, seething while I tromped along the asphalt. I am sick and tired of this. I can’t even have nice laundry thanks to this poor excuse for a yard!
I reached down to get the towel. Something underneath it caught my eye. A tiny purple flower poked up through a crack in the pavement. I bent down for a closer look. It had a bell-shaped blossom, petals that ruffled like a fancy skirt and a faint hint of lovely fragrance.
You sure picked the wrong place to bloom, I thought. Won’t be long till you’re dead and gone.
I turned around and stomped back to the house. But before I went inside, something stopped me. The loathing I felt for our yard faded, just a little bit. The flower had managed to grow without room and without sunlight. A tiny bit of beauty had sprung up from such ugliness. What else might be able to grow here?
We could rip up the pavement and I could ask at the greenhouse what grows in shade, I thought.
The next day we threw on some old clothes and went to work. Mike swung away with a pickax and I carted off the chunks he dug up. Each heavy load I got rid of made me feel lighter. “Why didn’t we do this before?” I asked.
“We’re doing it now,” Mike said. “That’s what really matters.”
The kids were excited to help. Kate turned the newly uncovered soil and Andy scattered grass seed. Every day after that I’d go out to check, kneeling to bask in the scent of dirt, feeling as if something had been planted in me too. Finally one day it happened: Grass started growing.
Later that week we came across a construction worker throwing away old bricks. He let us take them, and we made walkways along the shadiest parts of our yard. I filled terra-cotta pots with hosta, ferns and impatiens—all of them hardy enough to thrive even without much sun.
Lord, I marveled, you’ve seen even to the needs of these plants.
These days I spend as much time as I can in our yard. I’ll sit in my big white wicker chair with a glass of soda and read or just daydream. It’s moments like those that remind me of a lesson from the Bible: “He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land,” it says in Isaiah. “You will be like a well-watered garden.”
Well, our yard still isn’t exactly sun-scorched. But I’d say we’ve had our share of growth.