From my first look through our kitchen window while fixing the morning coffee, until my last look at dusk amid preparations for supper, I am continually and abundantly rewarded by what I see. It is a fairly common view revealing a small creek – a sub-tributary of the James River – that is subject to the tides of the Chesapeake Bay. So, through the pines, laurels, gums, and oaks, whether in rain or snow or sunshine, I see either an expanse of marshland, or an expanse of water, or some regularly varying combination of both.
From day to day and season to season, the view, of course, comprises other changing elements, creates odd varying impressions. A scattering of dogwood petals one afternoon in late spring is like a fleeting memory of snow in January. A couple of months later, I glimpse one red leaf on the gum tree. “But that’s too soon,” something in me protests, “it’s just July . . . I’m still young.”
And there are creatures: heron, squirrel, muskrat, an occasional tortoise or black snake. I have found signs of raccoons, but they work the nightshift, and I seldom see them.
I have never gotten around to doing much cultivation of the property. It is hardly a monument to my achievement. Yet, by means that are both “unbidden and unconscious,” it ministers to me deeply.
One of my sons lives here with me. He is a constant reader, a writer, a woodworker, a thoughtful fellow. Whenever there has been some unexpected hiatus in his routine of professional or academic activities, resulting in days or weeks of unstructured time, I have never given him much specific advice. He’s bright, he’ll figure it out. But I have offered the suggestion that in the midst of deciding “what next,” he should not neglect to grasp the simple gifts of this time and this place. Watch for the heron in the creek patiently stalking her breakfast. Ponder the afternoon deep gold of the marsh grass. Catch the faint sweet scent of the Russian olive hedge. These are not themselves the gifts, they are just the wrapping. The gift is peace, a sense of perfect completeness, Shalom.
He listens. I go on, “What if you were to move someplace else? And you might. Someplace where there are no trees? No tall, uncritical pines, no frolicking laurels? What if you lived in an apartment and your only view was of other apartments? Your sense of this land, this creek, this moment, might turn out to be like a wise investment you had made, like wealth, something you could live on.”