January 1. I open the front blinds and catch a glimpse of pure fresh white appearing against brown, dead earth. I look closer. My phlox is blooming.
It’s winter, thirty degrees out, an even frost covering ground, cars, and rooftops. First day of a new year, first day of a new decade.
Creeping phlox, the Greek word for “flame,” boasts starry flowers—five-point petals densely packed into clusters. Perennials, they are sun-loving, bloom in spring and summer, and spread over rockery or tough clay soil. Their needle-like foliage stays green all year.
Now the green is juxtaposed against the fallen, red-tan leaves of the Japanese maple, the blanched-lifeless strands of leftover butter-yellow day lilies that spend their summers stretching high toward the sun, and the helpless wild geraniums curled in on themselves. The Hawaiian ginger is laid out flat for dead. Atop the green foliage, I see maybe twenty white blooms.
Why now? These little creepers love sun, drought, and heat. Winter is gray, cloudy, mostly wet, with chill. Is their blooming a sign?
“Flame” or fire in some cultures symbolizes God’s radiant glory and holiness and can be used as an instrument of his power. Many cultures view fire as a symbol of wisdom and knowledge.
And so . . . the new year begins, and I step into it seeing a need to look at the earth, at nature all around me, and know God and his ways and wisdom, as he manifests these in his creation. It’s for me to seek and find and know.
All the digging, installing, the hard work of stone gathering and stacking, the view of mirrored water full of lilies and hyacinths, the sound of a waterfall, and visits of birds, even a blue heron once, ended abruptly one summer afternoon. I was sitting by the pond in a wooden Adirondack chair reading a book when it happened.
I heard the shifting clunks, the scrapes of rocks sliding against each other, the grinding collapse of the stone sides. Chipmunks had tunneled and hollowed out solid ground beneath the rocks around the pond, and the rocks, unbalanced, fell. I watched as loose dirt dug up by those little creatures sifted into the pond water, turning it to a silty, cloudy brown that would challenge the pump and cause it to fail.
It was a helpless feeling, this loss of the pond. This pond I dreamed about from the moment we moved into the house. I was consumed with the idea; I had to have a pond. Charlie groused about it at work, even named the new office computer server DAMN POND. He didn’t want to fool with it. Said it would be a lot of work to maintain. But he went along. We collected stones at the new development on Carothers south of Cool Springs Boulevard, then he engineered their placement around the black rigid pond form in the ground. He set up the pump, installed piping, and created a waterfall. Every spring, he helped scrub out the algae and scoop out the plant rot; he knew how to reverse the pump and drain the pond. We named the eleven fish and talked about them like they were children.
Then he died.
I was alone with my pond.
When it came time for cleaning, I emptied the water bucket by bucket by bucket. I sat in the dregs and scrubbed and cried, overcome with grief. I had scum all over me. The pump failed. I replaced it somehow. It failed again, and the summer sun grew algae so thick it took over the pond. Winter came and ice formed over the water. When spring rolled around, I cleaned it again and installed a new pump.
Now this. Chipmunks. An outside attack. A mess. I was tired, worn down, defeated. The walls of my life had already crumbled and fallen. Now, the walls of the pond. You can’t expect to build something or have something or fix something and have it remain in its healthy state. Things break. Things die. Things end.
Meanwhile, above the pond, the flowering abelia stood undisturbed beside the dirty water, bees visiting its blooms, getting their fill in a higher level of life, unaware of the fail.
The pond died that day. A little of me died, too.
The next day I removed all the stones from the pond’s perimeter and slung them out in the middle of the yard. I was angry. I didn’t like ends. Or change.
I ripped out the plastic pond liner and dragged it to the curb for the garbage man to pick up. Then I filled in the vast hole with dirt, twigs, and pinecones and put down a layer of flat stones on the surface. I stacked the rocks in a wide circle, repurposing the pond into a firepit.
I transitioned from water to fire. Two of the earth’s elements. Water is symbolic of death, as well as rebirth. Fire enables life. It symbolizes strength, courage, energy, power.
All good things end; the ends can be transformed into new beginnings, which may never be as good, but will be.