Place

Autumn rain bows flower heads

Like mine–a prayerful moment shared,

Walking home from church.

My seaside flower garden looks a little ragged now. The lush, pink profusion of summer blossoming is reduced to a dwindling swarth of green and brown. The echinacea, the foxglove, the primrose and the campion have dropped their petals in favor of forming seed pods. But the roses bloom on.

Lulled by late summer sunshine and warm breezes from the south and sheltered by an ancient apple tree in a corner of the back garden, the roses don’t seem to know that it is, officially, autumn. Their scarlet petals remain as a brilliant reminder of the summer just passed.

These roses, strong climbers with thick canes supported by a sagging white trellis, have bloomed in this spot for over forty years. Planted by a previous generation–a professor and his wife now in their eighties—the roses have been lovingly nurtured ever since by caring hands. Despite their age and the challenge of the volatile New England–if-you-don’t-like-the-weather-wait-a-minute climate–they thrive here.

Eighteen months after hurricane Katrina had laid waste to the Crescent City, evidence of the storm’s devastation was still widely visible. In New Orleans as a volunteer librarian assisting with the clean up and reopening of neighborhood libraries, my early morning walk to work took me through a boarded over neighborhood near Lake Pontchartrain. As I turned a corner, I came upon a single, white flower anchored firmly in a crack in the sidewalk. It’s hopeful presence caused my eyes to prick with unexpected tears.

With energy and concern, with care and love, many of us had come to New Orleans to share strength and hope with the residents there who had been left without much of either. But nothing we did or said as volunteers could bring the kind of hope found in the sight of that single flower. In spite of all the debris, all the broken promises, the lack of food and housing, this flower thrived. Did this mean that the people could thrive again, too? Did this somehow explain their unwillingness to leave for a less volatile climate?

Places root us. In an age where we are urged to give up our specific places to become citizens of global space, it is difficult to find those who will admit to the importance of this very particular attachment to their place. Despite urgings to the contrary, a sense of rootedness and connection to place calls us to stay still, even when the urge to flee is more powerful.

Despite icy winters and rocky ground, the roses bloom in Maine in October. Despite the lack of resources and support, those visited by disasters in cities like New Orleans remain and rebuild. In this way, each life expresses a deep and authentic attachment to a particular ground called home.

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One thought on “Place

  1. This makes me think of the parable of the sower. Different plants adapt to different grounds (places). They don’t call New Englanders hardy for nothin’ — a well-earned distinction in the winter of ’15.

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