It's odd that something that reflects so badly upon my housekeeping chops should reflect so brilliantly on my kitchen spider's. My first thought was "camera," not "duster." Arachnophobia aside, it's hard not to show mercy toward something as miraculous and lovely as a spider web.
A woman whose manifesto is I take pictures of weeds is bound to be an impractical sort. Someone once actually asked me whether the goal activity was identification and eradication. How could anyone simply like weeds ? Weeds for weeds' sake , as it were ? Weeds are, by definition, bad. They crowd out the good plants, the elites, like a hungry rabble swarming the cultivated few. They are unruly, unsophisticated and common. Out of control, even.
Well, sure. And maybe "weeds" is a provocative exaggeration on my part, as I also photograph wild flowers and garden plots. And just last week I thought very uncharitable thoughts as I ripped skeins of dry swallowwort from our chainlink. But "weeds" is my byword, my rallying cry. They are humble, and common, and tough and dignified. Worthy of attention. Someone's got to do it.
So yesterday, after weeks of photographic drought, I set out to take pictures of weeds. I decided to go to the grounds of the Robert Treat Paine mansion. The stones of our church actually came from these grounds, and there is an image of a kneeling Lydia Lyman Paine in the lower left of the big East-facing stained glass window above the altar, so I feel a connection, even though Robert and Lydia were more cultivars than weeds. I like to think that Lydia (so lovingly crouched beside the child in the window) appreciated the early spring mustards and the Queen Anne's lace that bloomed on the Olmstead-designed grounds of her summer house.
All early spring walks are leavetakings. Last year's weeds are one well-aimed sneeze away from a dust cloud. The upraised seedpods of the mustards are stripped and fractured, and the swallowwort cradles are brittle, half-moon husks. Increasingly tattered oak leaves hang impaled on bare branches, and only rare clots of red cling to tangled bittersweet vines. Knotweed stalks, stiff and hollow, stand cracked and bent at the waist.
Last year's abandoned galls knuckle the bare branches, and a few seeds still wait to be eaten or dispersed. The hungry ground is patient. What doesn't sprout will feed what does, or the larvae that wriggle among the roots. Nothing is lost.
All early spring walks are also greetings. The Paine Estate has several vernal pools that resound with spring peepers. I could hear a few chirps and cheeps from a distance, but, clearly it is still too early for the full chorus.
As I walked deeper into the grounds I spotted a second pool, still half clogged with ice. As I approached, I heard it: a deep, throaty gabbling, like muttering turkeys. I tiptoed closer, my eyes on a tongue of clear water at the far end of the pool. I could see the surface of the water twinkling with motion, twinkling and gabbling, all of which stopped as I drew near.
Yes, I admit it now. Winter is over. Ice hands, palms up in a final supplication, melt away.
Just as Lent will end and the Resurrection will be proclaimed. The natural year and the Church year cycle together. If the natural year is a circle, the liturgical year is a spiral: it is Lent again, yes, but conversion is ever ascending toward the light. Or maybe it is ever-descending into the depths of the darkness that is God.
In the Gospel text today, Jesus says Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
That's what it's all about, isn't it -- the relinquishment of clinging, the death of the self -- eradicating all the obstacles to our life together in God through Christ. I hate to say it, but it's a little like weeding -- rooting out of all the lush, aggressive, invasive tendencies that block the light of God.
Christ is a koan of monstrous proportions. That's why I am so grateful for the Eucharist and the liturgical year. Over and over again, we participate in Christ, we join Christ, we incorporate Christ, we are incorporated into Christ. We don't just think about Christ and learn facts and theories about Christ, we move in and through Christ with all of our being, body, mind, spirit.
There is no one right answer to the koan Christ: there are a million million right answers, all of which involve love and God and one another.
Lent is about self-examination and repentance, but it does not exclude thankfulness: gratitude for mercy, for love, for one another, for the beauty of the world, for God, and for Christ, God's ultimate gift to us.
So, as much as I love the lingering, cold, film noir corners of bogs, the sticks and sharp shadows, the bronze, leaf-clotted, water, and the stones scaled with grey-green lichen, and as much as I love the delicate, skeletal translucencies of dead, dry weeds,
I admit that I came to the Payne Mansion yesterday because I knew what I would find on the broad, rolling cultivated lawns behind it --
the feast of welcome that the loving Father has thrown for his starving, wayward, weed-eating, sorrowful and prodigal daughter --