Saint Francis sustained a blow to his outer garments, in the back near his feet. John dinged him with one of the small logs that Journey had brought from the wood pile. It knocked out a piece of what would be Francis’s legs and created a sizable hole. John placed him close to the back door up against the house, as to maintain the dignity of our dear statue. Saint Francis didn’t belong there, bricks and mortar behind him and concrete under him. His feet needed to feel the earth. He needed the green things with which to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. I moved him back to the spot underneath the ornamental pear, in front of a potted succulent, tucked into the protection of some branches of a shrub to cover the gaping hole in his robes.
The ornamental pear doesn’t belong where it is either. (I know, they are a blight on yards everywhere–type “why ornamental pear trees are awful” in the search box of your browser.) The way the Bradford pear grows makes it susceptible to breakage with the weight of weather, early freezes glueing the leaves on till spring and late spring snows bearing down on blossom-full branches. Even though it is the liability that Bradford pears are, we love it and count on it to keep our air conditioner-free home cool in the summer months.
The dying aspen trees that shade the other side of our back patio also don’t belong where they are. In the mountains, they grow and reproduce by shoots and suckers along their lateral roots; in the mountains, they live up to 200 years. Even though our altitude lies in the range of viability for them, their lifespan down here, away from their mountains, is around 20 years. Construction on this house began in 1993, and the cluster of aspens someone planted at about the same time are breathing their last.
If I take in just the scope of my neighborhood, I count numerous tress that don’t technically belong here. When we drive into Colorado from the east on I-70, no maple trees dot the landscape, no apple trees or Bradford pears or oak trees. That broad expanse leading up to the foothills and then to the steep inclines of the mountains–all arid, grassy plains. What grows there, what naturally belongs there, are stream-side cottonwoods and grasses.
I watered the pear tree last night, praying for it and asking it to live longer where it was given space to live and stretch out its branches. The splitting bark and pre-maturely reddening leaves in its top tells me that it is struggling to survive. I watered the vine-y ground cover and the plant that hides Saint Francis’s open robe.
I turned the hose on him to get some dirt off. The little bird he holds in his hand got a bath, too. I kept the heavy shower on him for a good bit, refreshing him and willing him to do his part where he is, with the bird and the growing things and the dry earth that is leaving the roots of that tree without nourishment. I prayed for the wandering ones whose feet search for native soil, whose roots keep reaching for nourishment. I thanked God for saints who go before and leave pathways to help us find our way, who teach us what it looks like to be who God fashioned us to be and to flourish with torn garments.