I eagerly await the last hard freeze of the season when the cold, hard earth wakes up and leaps into spring with blooms that proclaim rebirth. It is then that I throw off my overcoat and wander around outside, astonished at the beauty surrounding me.
I was under-astonished years ago when I lived out West. Southern California is overrun with palm trees and bougainvillea and the hills are alive with the blooms of Magnolias. There are Oaks almost as tall and droopy as if they were grown in Charleston. What California doesn’t have, and what I missed the most, were Dogwood trees.
What a shock to discover I was living in a state totally lacking the beauty of a four-cornered, white flowering tree that presents itself each spring in order to remind us of what Easter is all about.
There are no lightning bugs out there, either. On warm summer nights, I gazed out my window in hopes of seeing a lightning bug flicker across the dark sky but it didn't happen. California kids actually go through childhood without ever housing lightning bugs in a Dukes Mayonnaise jar with holes punched in the top.
As the spring seasonal changes began to move toward Easter, I felt emotionally compromised, aching for azaleas and dogwoods mixed with yellow daffodils. My soul longed for a glimpse of the flowers and trees of the South Carolina Low Country.
The exhibition of colorful azaleas and roses at the Edisto Gardens in Orangeburg where I grew up presented a living painting that surpasses my ability to describe. Monet would have loved it. Every shade, hue and color in the Azalea spectrum was surrounded by countless dogwood trees, robust with dramatic blossoms. It was impressive.
Every Easter, church choirs in the area came together to sing at the Sunrise Service held in the midst of the burgeoning gardens. The flowers, discerning their role in the planned program, managed to slash through the fog of early morning light to deliver hope to those of us waiting for the sunrise.
I was always cold arriving at the gardens, even wearing three layers of clothes underneath my choir robe. Folks not in the choir were also dressed in layers as they moved quietly up the hill hoping to find the best perch on which to listen to the music and hear the message of hope. I remember watching them gather together in the dark, greeting one another with a hug or a handshake and always a smile.
What a magnificent sight it was when the sun came up. Standing with other choir members on the slight incline we called a hill, I looked out at a spring bouquet of flowers that stretched over a two-mile radius, a never-ending mural. It was the official nod that welcomed in the new season, rich with the birth of flowers as colorful as Easter Eggs sprouting from grass as green as shamrocks.
We sang, “Up From The Grave He Arose,” “In The Garden,” “On a Hill Far Away,” and other familiar Easter hymns. Friends and neighbors in our little town welcomed Easter as the sun crept up slowly, yawning itself into the newborn day — God’s other gift to humankind.
So there you have it — the reason I look forward to the last cold snap, the final week of shivers, socks and sweaters. I’ll probably fret about the bulbs I’ve put in the ground and I’ll definitely need to pray for the survival of the already stressed out hydrangeas I bought on sale and planted in the back yard.
I will need to rely on what I learned during those cold Easter Sunrise Services when I was a kid. I will have to depend on my early conditioning to fill me once again with faith that our garden, as well as our world, will once again burst into bloom. When I look for the flicker of lightening bugs outside my window I will know that when the morning comes, I will wake to azaleas, dogwoods and yellow daffodils.