Friday, February 20, 2009

Japanese Tulip Trees and Pine-straw Playhouses

In his book, Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis writes about the first two times he felt what he could only describe as a fleeting, yet intense desire for "something"...something that...even at a young age, he knew was always just out of reach, unable to be in this fallen world. He refers to this longing as "the enormous bliss of Eden."

For him, this longing was first stirred by a perfect little toy garden his brother had created in the lid of a cookie jar and, later, by a desire to "possess Autumn," when he read Beatrix Potter's Squirrel Nutkin.

Lewis' words rang deeply in me, because I know the feeling he speaks about. For me these feelings are associated with two specific places--both involving moss.

To the right of my Mama Kelley's house, the yard sloped and was always particularly shady and at least 10 degrees cooler than any other part of the yard...even on hot Alabama summer days.

Because of the shade, grass didn't grow very well, making it a patchwork of cool, moist dirt and exquisite little mounds of moss. In the middle of it all was a Japanese tulip tree, which never bloomed long enough for me.

When this tree was in bloom, my idea of "Eden" was to walk barefoot through that moss-and-dirt patchwork blanket, daydreaming about what life would be like when Prince Charming showed up beside that tulip tree and kissed me...transforming me from a chubby, clumsy, four-eyed "frog" into a beautiful, graceful, dancing princess.

I would jump from moss patch to moss patch...stopping long enough to rub my toes across the cool, tickly-green surfaces. Then, I would dance around and around... humming...with the tulip tree serving as my partner, Prince Charming...who always looked a lot like Bobby Sherman.

Anything was possible in this dirt-and-moss patchwork paradise. Looking back I realize I wouldn't have been at all surprised to see fairies or leprechauns dart out from behind my tree...shushing me for humming too loud.

I would always get particularly annoyed when a cousin or little brother or hickory-toting grandmother invaded my privacy and broke the spell, sending the fairies and Bobby Sherman darting away to the netherlands with an almost audible "Poof."

Not quite as magical...but just as special...was the second "paradise" of my childhood. It was located behind my house (well, technically, my mama and daddy's house).

Somebody...I feel quite certain it wasn't my daddy...had built a tin-roof shed that leaned up against the house. Right above this shed was the window-unit air conditioner which, whenever it was on, continually dripped water onto the tin roof, which then dripped onto the ground below.

Apparently, this was the perfect recipe for growing moss, because there was always a large patch of it there, bordered by a long row of purple irises. This spot was where I always built my pine-straw playhouses.

My mama was the best pine-straw playhouse builder EVER! She taught me how to rake up pine needles in straight lines to make the leave openings for the mound up the pine straw for chairs in the living room and for baby-doll beds in the nursery...and to "box" up the pine needles for tables and refrigerators. (Thank goodness we always had an abundance of pine straw in our yard.)

In these playhouses, my bedroom was always located next to the tin-roof shed, and my little bed was always that exquisite patch of moss. It was large enough that, if I pulled my legs in just a bit, I could lay down on it....There is nothing quite like the feel of laying down on a cool patch of moss on a hot summer day.

I have to admit that I was somewhat territorial about my moss patches. One of the biggest fights Julie Reno and I ever got into was because I wouldn't let her have my moss bed.

Over the years, I've tried to discover the perfect formula for growing moss. But, there doesn't seem to be one....It still has somewhat of a "magical"quality--it just appears where and when it wants to grow.

So, imagine my delight last year, when I discovered little pots of it for sell at my favorite nursery here in Knoxville. I bought the last two pots they had and came home and planted it in two pots along the path through the woods in our backyard. (For some reason, I didn't trust just putting it in the ground.)

Each time I walked down that path, I stopped...reached down...and let that tickly-green magic carpet transport me back to a tulip-tree moss garden and a pine-straw playhouse. And, once again, felt the longing Lewis speaks of...for "the enormous bliss of Eden."

I've come to believe that God Himself places this exquisite, almost-aching longing in us as we journey through this upside-down Kingdom.

I believe it is a longing for home...for heaven...for Him.

And...I just know there will be great big patches of cool, tickly-green moss beds there....enough for everyone...but I promise to share...then.

"Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life,
clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
It flowed down the center of the main street.
On each side of the river grew a tree of life,
bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month.
The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.
No longer will there be a curse upon anything.
For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there,
and his servants will worship him.
And they will see his face,
and his name will be written on their foreheads.
And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—
for the Lord God will shine on them.
And they will reign forever and ever.
Then the angel said to me,
“Everything you have heard and seen is trustworthy and true."
....Blessed are those who wash their robes.
They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city
and to eat the fruit from the tree of life....
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.”
Let anyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life....
He who is the faithful witness to all these things says,
“Yes, I am coming soon!”
Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!
May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people."
(Revelation 22:1-6, 14, 17, 20-21 NLT)

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