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April’s winter burn, a combination of blowing winds, freezing temperatures, and low soil moisture, wrecked havoc upon the southern magnolia tree that was planted recently in my backyard. Its lustrous leaves mottled, turned brown, then dropped off, one by one, skirting the base of the tree with what resembled piles of furry pelts.

The arborist from Droege Tree Care in St. Louis, Missouri, advised me not to lose heart and to continue the weekly waterings with the soaker hose. I did just that while loving its spindly branches and noting still more speckled leaves barely attached to the limbs. Other well-established magnolia trees in the neighborhood were already leafing out.

It seems to me that hardships, any time of the year, not properly handled, can also cause winter burn; it crimps psyches: embittering the taste for life, withering the resolve to endure, shrinking the desire to speak, and jettisoning social contacts. The resulting soul-sickness reduces the afflicted to a mealy regurgitation of the predictable—the entrapment by Dark Forces that want them dead.

Salvaging such conditions requires the spiritual infusion of warmth, calm, nourishment, and light. I know. I’ve been there.

Such is happening to my southern magnolia tree; its lime-green leafing now glistens in the morning sun. God willing, it will thrust its branches into the sky, become a haven for winged creatures and a joy to passersby.

 

An early memory in a crowded store, decorated for Christmas, still chills me. My hand sought Mother’s, somewhere above my head, but it was hard, cold. It belonged to a mannequin.

To my dismay, such moments still occur.

But there’s hope. I recently discovered a spirited companion for my inner orphan, little Elizabeth. Her name is Anne, the redheaded, freckled, eleven-year old in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic, Anne of Green Gables, (1908). We first meet Anne, alone, seated upon a bed of tiles on a train platform, waiting for her third adopted family to pick her up, her worn carpetbag at her feet. Reticent, sixtyish, bachelor, Mathew Cuthbert soon arrives in his buggy and together they return to Green Gables, the farm that he shares with his spinster sister, Marilla.

Anne’s love for reading, her imaginative flights, her temper, and her incessant chatter soon endear her to this unlikely set of parents and her classmates. She rebounds from repeated scrapes and soon emerges into a bright, sensitive, young woman with a teaching career and college courses ahead of her. Key to this development is the stern presence of Marilla, often swallowing her giggles and grounding Anne in the practical realities of living.

In Marilla’s guidance of Anne, I discovered a model in relating with little Elizabeth. She’s already benefitting from my attention and shares her hilarity with me. Nothing is ever that serious!

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“I need a place where I can go,

Where I can whisper what I know…

A place where I can go when I am lost

And there I’ll find me.”

… so sings Mary Lennox, newly orphaned at ten years of age, in the Broadway musical, based on the children’s classic, The Secret Garden, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1911.

Immediately, we want to know what has happened to Mary. Why so cross, sickly, thin, her crepe hat and black cloak draining her yellowish skin. A sole survivor of a cholera epidemic in India, she wakes up in her uncle’s manor on the Yorkshire moor, overwhelmed, totally alone. Yearning for her private space, she engages all her senses and fires her imagination.

Fanciful elements then evoke Mary’s transformation into the laughing girl she becomes. The song of a red-breasted robin leads her to unearth the key to the ivy-covered gate of an overgrown garden, one among many surrounding Misselthwaite Manor. Inside the garden, she discovers new greenings spiking through the warm earth amid dead growth she feverishly removes. A later chance meeting with twelve-year old Dickon, intimately acquainted with all living things on the moor, also rebirths her spirit. Together, they tend the blooming secret garden as spring’s pastels inch into summer’s riot, into fall’s quiet.

As November’s darkness plummets us within the mystery of disintegration and snuffs out the sun’s light, our own as well perhaps, we can stay fresh within our secret garden, wherever we discover one. Like once forlorn Mary Lennox, we can laugh, heartily …

 

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