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“It’s raspberry,” I said, pausing during our walk down the court and looking up. A diseased sweet gum had been cut down last autumn and replaced by an almost bare sapling; its flowering identified it as an ornamental plum tree, spring’s first color of many still to come; it heralded the blue sky filled with meandering clouds on holiday. A solitary honeybee alighted on one if its blossoms, restarting the cycle of honey-making.

Still marveling at the panoply of beauty gladdening my psyche, I took a few steps with my cane and my helper’s support and studied the trunk of the tree, its black bark curlicuing, at intervals, like the ringlets of a child groomed for a party. Again, I rejoiced with this ornamental plum tree rooting so deeply on our court; its previous history in a nursery also drew my curiosity, the work of caring tenders.

Spring also came to Ukraine this year, but its thaw was different from elsewhere. Reports of Russian tanks and other motored vehicles stuck in muddied roads filled the media. Explosions cut swaths through what used to be gardens and fields. Survival became more critical than planning for spring’s natural unfolding and consequent beauty.

Yet, memories of spring’s strong and gusty winds, of nourishing rainfall of seedlings, and of sprouting perennials must remain in Ukrainians’ psyches, despite their bloody history being replicated today. 

Again, nurseries must appear, and workers will cultivate flowering fruit trees, even ornamental plums, in this beleaguered country—Such sentiments fill the global prayer.

Sun-tinged chill projects two shadows upon the asphalt road: One steadying the left elbow of the other, using a cane; save for its rhythmic tap, hush impregnates the afternoon. It feels like Advent, dormant and still waiting.

Varied brown remains of dried pin oaks and sycamores, empty pods from mimosa trees, and pine needles pattern each step with beauty. Blackened is the row of cone flowers, nearby, their heads raised in expectation; the same for the cluster of sedum, having lost their autumn lavenders.

In a neighbor’s yard, berries redden on Christmas holly shrubs. Aproning the base of their solitary ginkgo tree are buttery fan-shaped leaves. And next door, the naked limbs of a giant maple reveal two squirrel nests.

Only the Missouri Honeysuckle entwined in the chain-linked fence still holds some of its watery-green leaves; darker shades lay at the bottom, in varying stages of dismemberment. And nearby, a splattering of multi-colored leaves still droop from the viburnum shrub; its eventual bareness will give way to its former greening in spring.

As if this display is too much, tree sparrows make holiday like aerialists zinging beneath circus tents. Then, a solitary cardinal swoops to a feeder, its action caught in the lens of my companion.

Such impressions quiet the soul for prayer. Gladness follows in its wake.

Would that Advent’s barren beauty could remain longer …

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