Seeding the Snow

It's two degrees outside, and my mailbox is overflowing with lilies and tomatoes. Pictures of them, that is. Seed catalogs.

They began turning up just before Christmas, sandwiched between the Visa bills, gilded Christmas cards, and letters from friends we haven't seen in years. In the midst of carols, baking, and family festivities, the seed catalogs were piled on an end table, largely forgotten. Until today.

I love how they arrive in the dead of winter, dependable as the liturgy. So much promise for just pennies a packet. Some of the catalogs are slick and polished, with an abundance of exaggerated hyperbole. "Exclusive!" "Summer Madness Hybrid Double Petunia," "Picture Perfect Salmon Pink Coleus," "A tapestry of stunning colors and textures." No shy descriptions here.

In all the catalogs, warm colors proliferate: reds, oranges, yellows. A kaleidoscope of hot peppers on one page, zinnias like fireworks on the next. I soak up colors, the butter yellows of sweet corn, the bright pinks of impatiens, the deep greens of basil.

Outside, it's difficult to think about planting anything. Fourteen inches of snow have obliterated all signs of my backyard garden. The pond is frozen solid under the drifts, leaving a slight depression, shadowed blue in the low-slanting February light. It's wreathed with tracks, ghost-signs of life, the local squirrels and coyotes checking to be sure their water hole is truly inaccessible. My bird feeders are empty and silent. Steam curls up invitingly from the heated birdbath, but there are no takers. Despite the harsh particulars, the landscape is easy on the eyes. Restful and quiet.

Meanwhile, the world's all about unrest. The newspaper flung on the kitchen counter has the same headlines as a day ago, a week ago, a month ago. The economy nose-dives. Companies lay off tens of thousands. Epidemics and starvation decimate Africa. Corruption plagues my local government. On Wall Street, those who have much want more and don't hesitate to cheat those who have little. Our youngest child just flew the nest, and I worry. What kind of world is this for my children?

I don't believe it was an accident that God began the world with a garden. Scripture brims with references to planting and tending a garden, from the parable of the sower in Mark 4:3 - "A farmer went out to sow his seed" - to the parable of the vineyard in Matthew 20:1 - "The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard" - to God's admonition to Adam in Genesis 2:15 - "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it."

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