Monday, April 1, 2013

Lookin' Over and Over Looking

If you want a clear picture of how much we have changed since we first willingly held out your wrists to accept the comforting shackles of maturity, consider your interactions with the grass.

There was a time in our lives when a lush, green lawn wasn't the sigil of yardwork obligations, but a gateway to a multiverse of exploration and play, the carpet to childhood's greatest playroom. Laying on one's belly to peer between blades of grass, imagining the forest it represented to the ants and daddy long-legs we observed there; following the peregrinations of arthropods and gastropods amidst the slowly dawning recognition that your modest childhood backyard might represent a county, a nation, an entire universe to the tiny denizens you shared it with.

How many times, as a third-grade outfielder, would I squat, mesmerized by the comings and goings of diminutive animals, or subtle variations in the structure of the grass we played on? How much clover did I sift through in pursuit of the elusive four-leafed variety, only to be interrupted by the crack of the bat and having to scramble to my feet to determine if the ball was coming my way, or to discover that my team was actually hitting now (only once, thankfully!).

I never did find a four-leafed clover, and I am not at all sure when it was, exactly, that I stopped looking. Did the ground simply get too far away? This seems unlikely, even impossible; it has never been further away than the bottom of my feet. Perhaps it is better to say that I grew too far away from it, eyes drawn to tantalizing horizons and tempting corners, even fences where the grass could be argued to be more verdant. By the time I crossed those fences, however, my fickle interests were undoubtedly drawn upwards and elsewhere again.

On a warm June day some five years back, I went to pick up the girls from school, about a kilometre from our house, so we could walk home together. Fenya was in 4th grade at the time, Glory in 1st. I waited for them in a parking lot on the edge of school property, getting them used to notion of finding each other at day's end and making their own way from the school. Seeing them cross the field, hand in hand, was about as rewarding a vision as a man could ask for, and they would wave with their free hands once they saw me waiting.

Before I could even ask them how their day had been, Fenya blurted out, "Guess what I found at recess today?"

"Something dangerous? A coin? A frog?"

She shook her head. "No, I found a four-leaf clover, a real one!" She wriggled her fingers into the chest pocket of her jean jacket and extricated it as carefully as she could. "Ashley thought one of the leaves was torn, but I think it is a proper one so I kept it to show you. Do you think it's real?"

I took the tiny item from her hands, taking care to be gentle. True, one of the leaves was quite thin compared to the others, but on closer inspection, it appeared to have been folded upon itself. Using my thumbnail, I was able to slowly unfurl it, and said to Fenya, "I think you're right, kiddo; I think this is the real McCoy." Seeing her puzzlement and realizing she was probably trying to connect her discovery to the doctor on Star Trek, I quickly added, "I think it is a genuine four-leaf clover. Well done!"

She beamed on the walk home, while I told her how much time I had spent at her age, scouring lawns for the legendary clover, and how jealous and proud I was that she had found one. I told her that if she let me, I would put the clover on or in something to preserve and protect it, to which she gladly agreed.

The next day, I went to Michael's and bought a tiny, unfinished wooden box, a child's treasure chest, perhaps three inches wide. I mixed up a batch of thick epoxy varnish I had used previously to make miniature rivers for wargaming, and after placing the clover carefully on the lid, poured it over.

The chemical reaction between the two components created heat, and the heat created bubbles in the varnish. By blowing through a straw, you could use the carbon dioxide in your breath to draw out the bubbles and create a smooth, clear finish. I worried that the heat might damage the leaves, but had no better means of sealing this discovery, so I left the varnish to dry and trusted to fate.

Appropriately enough, luck held, and the clover remained visible and undamaged, if perhaps not quite as green as we might have liked. I used a fine tip marker to put a small inscription on the underside of the lid, to affix the find to a moment in time so it wouldn't become yet another tragic and ambiguous amalgamation of childhood memory.

I'm not entirely sure why Fenya's four-leaf clover came to mind this weekend; the delayed promise of spring perhaps, or the appearance of grass in our yard as the recent snow makes its reluctant retreat. Perhaps the reflection we heard on Easter Sunday, as James reminded us that the significance of Jesus's resurrection might have less to do with creating an otherworldly kingdom of heaven than illustrating our ability to create a heavenly life on earth by standing up to oppressive powers. Maybe his illustration of how brutal life was in first century Palestine and even medieval Europe reminded me of just how lucky I am, how lucky we all are, to be living in our deeply flawed yet occasionally fair and gentle world.

I asked her today where the clover box was, and she took it out of another box so I could take some pictures of it. I opened it to see the inscription, having already forgotten the date, and saw a small plastic bag inside. "What's that?" I asked.

She shrugged eloquently. "Some stones I found, and a bone." I nodded, understanding. The treasures of childhood: nothing fashioned by the hands of man, but carved and polished instead by time and erosion. Nothing purchased or traded, only discovered and cherished.

Last fall, we were finally able to get the landscaping done to our yards that they so desperately needed, which included new sod to replace our uneven, yellowing, crabgrass-riddled lawn. I hope that when spring finally does arrive to stay, that in addition to mowing and fertilizing it, I take some time away from the hammock and spend some time at eye level with the ants and beetles again, exploring the underfoot world so long unvisited.

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