There are trees uprooted next to the freeway. Mounds of dirt clod clumps clinging to thick roots sticking up, awkward, misplaced.
I want to get a better look at them, but I am driving on California Interstate 5 to Los Angeles. Husband and kids and bags and I journeying to friends who said, please come. It is overcast, gray sky low, arms stretching out in embrace.
If I were in the passenger seat, I’d take a photo. Or, I’d grab words and try to work out what it is that makes my heart feel so tight in my chest when I look out. Gnarled empty limbs, cement brown, so undignified, these trunks sprawled, broken and exposed, on their sides.
I am familiar with almond trees–as a farmer’s daughter who watched her dad bend low, dirt crusted in lines of tanned skin, watching and listening to the voice of trees. I know the sharp edges of older bark as it breaks off in clumps, and the smooth, knotted roughness of young bark layered on new green. I know the smell of wet earth and the miracle of paper-thin nonpareil shells the dogs crack open and eat from the ground.
These trees were planted once. They were seeds once. They were shoots that laid in dirt brown and hard, softened by drinks of water, aerated by steel spikes pulled by tractors, and visited by furry gray-brown squirrels and jackrabbits that scamper and scurry to limb upon limb or underground.
Hands laid each shoot into the ground. And the shoots grew and limbs stretched, quiet and strong, sprouting green leaves and white blossoms, and then nuts with green velvet shells before the hulls hardened and opened wide. Downy against thumb or cheek as you rub them close.
The day the bulldozers ripped roots straight out, one by one, row after row–violent, sure–was not a decision made quickly. It was not a decision that was easy. It was not a decision that was fun.
But it was necessary, whether due to lack of water, or money. Or maybe the orchard changed hands.
I hope new trees are planted soon. I hope these old trees, their roots so wrongly bent in weird angles outside the land where they belong, are replaced with new, young shoots. I pray their lineage continues, the life of the seeds giving birth to trees, with limbs pruned and the trees growing tall, before being pulled out of the ground.
Death doesn’t look beautiful, from this angle, as I speed by, one of thousands of cars on a January Saturday afternoon. It doesn’t look poetic or kind. It doesn’t look hope-filled or cause for any celebration.
My hands clutch the steering wheel and I memorize the scene, the uprooted orchards, the story of men and of women and of dreams and of life coming so miraculously from hard ground.
I remember my mom’s words to me on the phone the day before. The almonds will be in bloom soon. Just a few more weeks and the blossoms will be on the branches. The trees my father planted.
And here I see only uprooted trees, disaster, disorder, disappointment. And I know the trees my father planted are scheduled to be pulled up soon, too.
The word for almond in Hebrew, is shakeid, the root of the word meaning to watch or to awake. Jeremiah, when he is asked by God what he sees, looks and says “I see an almond branch.” And I think about Jeremiah looking for what God wanted him to see, and how Jeremiah did see, and how what Jeremiah saw was something of so much beauty.
Father, show us what to watch for. Ask us what we see.
How will we answer? What is before us? What is in front of us? How do we see it? What is God asking us to see?
Jeremiah saw an almond branch, a branch of beauty, a branch also decorating the Lamp stand of the Tabernacle, in Exodus.
It is less than a minute and I have driven past the orchard. I am aware, as I look, that it is a memory I want to keep. I knew that I would want to record it.
Aren’t we stirred, both, by beauty and beauty absent?
And in this moment I feel tears fall; I realize I am struggling to see beauty and hope when before me is disorder and chaos and death.
Let us watch with clear eyes, with open hearts. Let us remember there is always newness, always beauty, with God, even when things feel completely bleak.
And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it (Jeremiah 1: 11-12).
Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, whatever situation we now face, I pray, sister, we ask for help in being watchful, in being observant, in desiring to see with clear, open eyes, what lies before us, yes–the miracle in the death, the life awaiting awakening, the word of God He is asking us to see, live out, believe.
How are you looking? How can I pray for you?
Linking up with the encouraging and beautiful Jennifer, at #TellHisStory.