Monday, February 26, 2007

Terracing My Own Backyard

Lead Us

My backyard is a hill, in two directions. It is small, bordered by a rusty chain-link fence, visually squeezed by houses on all sides. At the not-so-far end is a large pine tree, some maples, various odd shrubs, and a patch of ivy beneath it all. I do not like my backyard much. I mostly stay in the house. We have talked about grading the yard and terracing. But something inside me fights that.

Recently, with all this talk of erosion control, smallness of scale, and terracing, I have begun to rethink my backyard— especially since it is a place that has eroded my appreciation for being outside. So, I just read Radical Simplicity and am taking Merkel's suggestion about going to a secret outdoors place each day. (More about this on my my other blog.)

"Lead me into contentment," is my new prayer, as I step into this small space to find what unexpected life may be there. It is my way of terracing my own backyard, working with and shoring up what is there, bringing fruit out of what feels fruitless.

What follows is Sunday night's fruit. It is longer than what I usually post here. But, since I'm going to be away for a week or so starting Thursday, maybe you can come back to read it while I'm gone...

I did not think I would go out to my secret spot today. It is Sunday. I sang in the church praise band this morning, came home to a much-needed nap. We made popcorn and tea and chuckled "sorry" to each other in a game of Knockout (I'm sorry to knock you out, it's my only move!) I won the game. Winners get a kiss, "losers" get a hug. In this way, everybody wins.

I got two kisses from the girls, three from the mister ("No, no!" we cried. "Kiss like you mean it!") We collapsed into a family hug. Dinner was leftover Greek food. Sara played the cello. Then, it was off to bed for the children. And I settled into reading Annie Dillard, Tim Bascom, Lisa McMinn. Somewhere along Tinker Creek, after Dillard sees the frog get eaten by the water beetle, something called me imperceptibly. "Look up."

I looked out the window. Snow falling, thick. How did it silently call me? How could I not answer? I put on gloves and a wool hat, my down coat, and went out into the night. It was light enough to see the world of quiet. I carried my sled to the secret spot and lay down where the snow was falling through the pine. It fell steadily on my face. I could hear it too, "tip, tip - tip, tip, tip."

The snow became like rain where it melted on my skin. Rivulets, like tears, crossed my face. Water flowed into my mouth. The taste of melted night snow. My hat drooped from the weight of the gathering snow, began to pull itself off my head. I closed my eyes.

"What if I just stay here, shiver into sleep?" I thought. The ground was a soft bed beneath me. The air a cool, wet cover. I listened to the squeal of a snowplow turning the corner. All else was silence. "Where are the birds? All asleep. Somewhere in the trees?" Between scattered thoughts, my warm house began to send out its own call, imperceptible at first, but persistent. "Come back inside."

I picked up my sled and walked out of the snow-laden ivy... placed the red plastic onto new-fallen snow. Whooosh... I went down the hill fast, stopped by crashing into the house. It doesn't hurt. I laughed out loud. Smiled to the snow and the night. Put the sled under the covered porch. Turned in time to see my backyard neighbor switch off her kitchen light.

I wondered, "What did she see? Does she think she is crazy, witnessing a dark, lumpy figure sledding down my backyard hill... off into the cover of the hemlocks..."

SSI (Standing Seedlings Invitation): If you post something related to this Seedling post, let me know and I'll link to you.


Living in a Throwaway Culture

making do

Lead Us photo, by L.L. Barkat.

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Blogger Llama Momma said...

Beautifully written; beautiful thoughts. Thank you.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Erin said...

All these phenomenal thoughts you would have missed if you'd chosen to remain inside and read someone else's thoughts!
When I'm sitting out in my yard, I sometimes feel like my brain is switched OFF. Totally unconnected. (Especially if I find a patch of sun-- Ahhhhhh!) But then again... my soul is switched ON.

I like your prayer for contentment. Do you think that has been key in allowing you to see your backyard with generous new eyes?
I sometimes see my own backyard as a wasteland, and I've discovered that it's because my heart wants it to be this way or that way (according to the gardening mags.) and I know that it won't ever be like that. It's not on the right slope, doesn't get the proper amount of sun, the deer would eat anything I plant, etc.

I think I'm having a contentment breakthrough this year and finally have some DO-ABLE ideas to tend this plot of land with an attitude of contentment and appreciation for what it IS, not what I wish is would be. To see the potential in it and to give some loving care to what God HAS given me out there.

This post makes me want to read the Psalms and Thoreau.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

This is beautiful. We don't have many flowers in our yard: it's too hard to fight with the Texas clay. But just in the corner, right by a table where I can take my laptop to write outside, I planted some tulips (or maybe they were daffodils - I'm not exactly a gardener). Maybe that corner will bloom.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Craver VII said...

I thoroughly enjoyed that. I will read it again later, just for fun.

"Lead me into contentment." Yes, I think that is a prayer that can honor God. He is able to make our hearts content, regardless of external circumstances.

And now your neighbor suspects what your friends have known all along, that this lady marches to the beat of a different drummer. :-)

11:34 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Llama... you are welcome. Though it comes from time in a secret place, I thought it good to share it openly.

Erin... so, for the writer in need of good thoughts, take to the woods!

Yes, I relate to your expression the "soul is switched on." I feel more alive and joyful than I have in a long time.

As for the prayer of contentment, I think that came one day while I was out there in the ivy... it was perhaps a gift God gave me to give back to Him.

Your thoughts about what to plant bring me back to Berry, who emphasizes the importance of working with a place according to its uniqueness rather than trying to conform it to some external standard.

And, finally, I leave you with a quote from Berry, regarding the what-I-wish-it-would-be idea:

"As we felled and burned the forests, so we burned, plowed, and overgrazed the prairies. We came with visions, but not with sight. We did not see or understand where we were or what was there, but destroyed what was there for the sake of what we desired. And the desire was always native to the place we had left behind." (The Gift of Good Land, p82)

Heather... thank you. I wonder what would like to grow in Texas, if it were given an invitation to inhabit your clay?

Craver... this marvelous quality of God— to give contentment— is, at least right now, what I am learning most from my sojourns into the little "woods."

Now, as for the drummer... does he at least play something comprehensible? Perhaps my neighbor thinks not now!

1:30 PM  
Blogger bluemountainmama said...

wow- i was there with you...very beautifully written. as far as making the most of your backyard... when my sister lived in philly, she lived in a row house and had one little square patch of grass in the back and a little spot of sloped grass in the front. somehow she made an amazing garden out of it all. so, i guess there's hope for any patch of soil....

2:34 PM  
Blogger AIMEE said...

beautiful...this inspired me. It's funny how I march into my yard to make it something maybe it wasn't meant to be...instead I could come to it as a gracious visitor and ask it to invite me in to what is was made to be. To have eyes to see what is already there and to cultivate the beauty that may be but simply hidden.

4:42 PM  
Blogger Charity Singleton said...

Just beautiful. I think it takes spiritual eyes to see beyond what is to what could be -- in people as much as backyards. But it also takes wisdom to see the particular potential in an individual person or backyard. All are not created alike!

I love that your house beckoned you as much as your yard did. We learn when we go out into the wilderness. But we also learn when we pack up and go back home.

Have a lovely vacation.

5:49 PM  
Blogger by S.Hunt said...

I really enjoyed the read today. Everybody needs a quiet place. Mine is my front porch early in the morning, especially on Saturday and Sunday.

My backyard isn't all that great either, but there's a serenity in the shade of the horseapple tree.

By the way... I also enjoyed reading your interview with Mark Goodyear on your website.

7:08 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

I can appreciate you trying to find the beauty in your yard. I have had many yards like that. So I am working with what I have in my yard to make it what I want it to be. Similarily, in my own life. I'll be posting some of these thoughts this week as I gather them--please come check out! :)

Heather--plant sunflowers. They grow in the *worst* dirt. :)

7:18 PM  
Blogger Ted Gossard said...

L.L., Your backyard reminds me of ours. In fact I'd have a hard time thinking ours was better. But I too want to make better out of what we have. And enjoy the outdoors more, even though we're so crowded here.

Thanks too, for the nice snow story. You young people can get away with that. My wife and I are not much for the cold anymore.

7:32 PM  
Blogger Christianne said...

This was singularly beautiful. Beautifully expressed by a beautiful person. Thank you for sharing it with us.

I like the way you heard the prompting to look up . . . and followed the nudge to go outside. I also like how you heard the prompting to go back inside . . . and followed that nudge, too. It says a lot about you: that you have ears to listen, and that you obey the movement of the moment when you sense it is time to move on.

7:49 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Blue... you have landed on something I was also thinking about... "terracing" a situation doesn't always mean accepting it exactly as is... we can bring a redemptive touch... that is our "stonework" just as the Incas brought stonework to their eroding mountain fields

Aimee... yes. Do read the Berry quote above that I gave to Erin, if you haven't. It is about listening for what is before one takes to the field to work.

Charity... ooohh. I like That Wisdom... about learning from both our going out and our coming in.

S. Hunt... the horseapple tree. Now that's something I'd love to read more about, should you ever choose to blog about it. And, yes, isn't Mark great? I totally enjoyed interviewing him.

Andrea... I shall take your sunflower advice to Heather. And I'll be away for a week after tomorrow, so I'll be sure to come to your blog and catch up when I get back.

Ted... I suspect that you think me younger than I am. I'm not much for cold either. That is part of the discipline of going out. But the reward far exceeds the difficulty (yes, there's a spiritual lesson in there somewhere!)

Christianne... you are too kind. I hope someday I will be as flexible as you already perceive me to be.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

L.L. I just skimmed your post b/c my brain cells are currently resting (it's late and i just ate too many mashed potatoes that are making me sleepy). Obviously you have written something profound and beautiful that I will be able to enjoy soon (I sound so dumb leaving a comment on something I haven't fully read). Just popping in to say hey.

Thanks for your kind comments! Just wanted you to know i appreciate you :) and your sweet words.

BTW, are those your feet in the photo? If so, what nice feet you have. If they are not your feet then don't feel bad because I'm sure yours are just as nice.

9:46 PM  
Blogger For now... said...

This is so beautiful , I could almost feel myself there! I love to go out alone and shovel the snow. There is such a peacefulness to it. Quiet. I had to give that up last year. My boys are of the age that they need to take on that repsonsiblity. I do miss the peacefullness of the snow. This reminded me of it. I love that you rode the sled back down! What a sight for the nieghbor!

8:34 AM  
Blogger Inihtar said...

That was lovely! I could almost see you! And thank you for your advice on your blog. I think I just might head to Central Park and enjoy the beauty of the snow, rather than whine about the slush that follows.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Julie Luse said...

Hey there,
I wanted to invite you to join me in Thankful Thursdays on my Raising Contentment Blog. It's just something I'm trying to start to help myself count my blessings. I explain it on my blog if you'd like to check it out. Have a great day!
julie -Raising Contentment, Gluten-Free Gourmet

7:08 PM  
Blogger Martin Stickland said...

I love the photo of your boots in the snow, so many different colours and eliments going on there!

I like the way you have told us about the good time spent with you family too, I almost felt as though I was there with you enjoying the fun!

Bye bye L.L

6:24 AM  
Blogger Irish Church Lady :) said...

Lovely post LL! You've motivated me to find my secret spot.

2:10 PM  
Blogger kirsten said...

LL - I read this post today just after coming back from my own Secret Spot. I hadn't planned to go there today, but I felt the nudge to go. And when the clock told me it was time to go, a quiet voice inside me said, "Stay."

As I read through your thoughts, they resonated with my own - thoughts I haven't had a chance to articulate for myself, but that you've expressed here so beautifully. Thank you.

5:00 PM  
Blogger Shannon Cobb said...

Wow with all these thoughtful comments I'll just have to look stupid. I was just going to say that all this time I thought L.L. Barkat was a man. Till I saw that you kissed the mister and saw on your website that you were a woman. Sorry if I ever referred to you as he. Hilarious!
Oh yeah, great post!

11:46 PM  
Blogger Jim Martin said...

A wonderful post. You really use words so well.

I appreciate what you say about contentment.

9:02 PM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

"...since I'm going to be away for a week or so starting Thursday..."

How did I miss that detail? I'm having withdrawals. Anyone else?

5:41 PM  
Blogger nannykim said...

I think that what you wrote reminds me of two quotes I read this week. "Wherever you are be all there." And "Live in the moment--to notice whatever God has for me at thies very point in time, to discover and appreciate the joy in the task at hand." I love the challenge of this --live in the moment--and living in the moment sensing God's presence there.

1:46 PM  

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