For Ellie

(who has been asking some very good questions about God)
June 2012
My 8-year-old niece has been asking some tough questions about God lately. They're the same questions I once grappled with, and I wanted to give her my own views on what God is—or isn't. So I wrote this prose-poem. And yes, it's all true.

When Aunt Deborah and I moved into this house,
the backyard was very bare
and ugly.

There were no trees
and no flowers...
just scrubby grass tangled with clover and weeds.
The yard was surrounded on all sides by raggedy old fences, so thick and tall
that you couldn't even see out.

So Deborah decided to plant a garden.

We dug up the grass around the north fence
and put in a raised bed for berries
(kind of like a box made of railroad ties, with dirt inside it).

On the west side we planted a tiny tree.
surrounded by flowers and bushes

To the east, we had a pretty red shed built,
with lots of room for the shovels and spades and rakes and shears
that we would need to care for the garden.

And in the center (more or less)
we put in a huge roundish bed that took up most of the yard.
Here Deborah planted basil
and dill
and kohlrabi
and tomatoes and beans.

(I didn't do nearly as much work as Aunt Deborah,
but I did dig some nice winding paths through the beds
and behind the shed
and spiralling around the tree—
so she would have a way of getting to all the plants.
I lined the paths with red paving-stones.)

On the fence overlooking the blackberries
we hung a big bright golden metal sun.
And in the exact center of the huge bed,
on an iron stand,
we put a gazing-ball
covered with glass tiles and marbles and crazy spirals of silver wire,
like a little moon.

It wasn't very long before our garden had visitors.

The first ones were squirrels and bluejays
(you see those pretty much everywhere in the city).
But then Deborah put in a bird-feeder,
filling it with nuts and seeds,
and before you knew it
we had bright red cardinals,
and robins,
and wrens,
and sparrows,
and grackels with black feathers that shimmered all the colors
of a midnight rainbow,
and gray mourning-doves,
and sometimes even zippy-fast finches so yellow
that it hurt your eyes to look at them.

Really, we loved all the birds,
but our favorite visitors by far
were the bunnies.

Wild bunnies
that just showed up one evening near sunset
and stayed—
day after day,
munching on the clover,
sometimes three or four of them at a time.

We would watch them for hours from our window
("Bunny TV", we called it).
They were very good bunnies:
they never ate the vegetables,
and they barely nibbled on the berries.
It was like they knew the garden was a special place,
and that they were very lucky to be there.

Now, not everything was perfect:

For example,
the squirrels and the bluejays didn't like each other...
the squirrels kept taking the nuts that fell under the bird-feeder,
and the bluejays squawked at the squirrels and chased them away.

And one day we saw that a huge RAT
liked the bird-feeder too
and had moved under our house to be close to it.

Then one of the bunnies tasted the leaves of the bush beans
and discovered that they were REALLY good,
and pretty soon Aunt Deborah's bean plants were chewed down to the stalks
before she could harvest even one tiny bean.
(She was a little annoyed about that.)

But still, everyone mostly got along.

We put down rat-traps,
and Deborah planted lots more beans just for the bunnies,
and she refilled the bird-feeder every day,
and that was the way things went every spring and summer, for years.

Then one day,
we found that one of the bunnies had been killed—
by a neighborhood cat, we thought.

We buried it by the tree.

Not long after, we found another one.
We buried that one too,
and put a fence on the south side of the garden to keep the cat out.

The next year there was a great big bunny that we loved to watch
(we hoped that it was pregnant and would have lots of babies)
but it vanished one day.
And not long after,
we found it dead in the crawl-space under the house:
it had burrowed inside
and stuck its head in one of the rat-traps that we had put down.

I threw away all the rat-traps after that.

That was the hardest death for me to bear,
because I couldn't blame a cat this time.
This one was my own fault.

And anyway we never did keep that cat out:
Deborah saw it jump over the fence one day.

So here's the thing I'm trying to say...

Yes, we're the makers of the garden,
We didn't hatch the birds.
We didn't breed the bunnies.
We didn't invite the rat, or the cat.

We just plant the flowers and vegetables
and fill the bird-feeder
and that sets things in motion.

Sometimes what happens in the garden makes us happy.
Sometimes it makes us sad.
Some things we can control.
Some things we can't.
But overall, we love having a garden—
not just for what we make happen,
but for the surprises.

I sometimes wonder what the bunnies and the birds think of us.
I don't think they could ever understand what we are,
and why we do what we do.

Maybe they know that we create the garden,
and maybe not.

Either way it's ok.

We're just happy to weed
and mulch
and mow the grass
and watch

from the window of our home.

Photos by Deborah Stearns