We don’t have a big yard, its about the size of a couple postage stamps, give or take a few images of the Queen. But we do have a forest just behind the ordinary chain link fence, a dense coastal forest filled with cedars and squirrels, spirea mountain ash and coyotes. Every September, a mama bear and her cub lumber through for a few weeks and we keep our tinies inside or carefully supervise them instead of what we usually do: open the door, set the boundaries – “this house to this house, our yard and your best friend’s yard” – and let them go. We have salmonberry bushes and blackberry bushes tangled up around a little creek that runs through, we poke our hands through the thickets, braving scratches, for the first berries of the year. By August, we’ll be sick of blackberries, the jam will already be made.
We don’t live in the wilderness, just a quiet little neighbourhood of semi-detached homes on the edge of town in the valley. We’re next to a blueberry farm. We have been thinking seriously about moving this year. We got so far as to buy a house and set our moving dates but then for a few reasons, it all fell apart. Now that it’s been a few weeks since that disappointment, I’ve come to see the grace hiding in that falling apart. It’s a small thing in the scheme of things, I know, but it loomed large for our little family and was the source of much conversation. We continue to weigh our options, should we stay or should we go?
And life continues. I’m in the midst of editing the new book which is slow going in this season. I stop frequently to nurse the baby or to make lunch or to pick up the tinies from the bus stop. I have a babysitter for our preschooler two mornings a week which is an enormous help. My husband takes the three big kids to my parents’ place for the day on a Saturday now and again, giving me the house and the baby to myself as I try to put a chapter to bed. Serendipitously, two weekends ago when he did that, it was a chapter about how discussions of theology need ordinary people to be involved, how well-educated and well-read and well-travelled scholars also need us low church experiential local folks talking about how we see and experience and know God, about how theologians are hiding in every walk of life. I wrote those words at my kitchen table with the youngest of four tinies beside me, snoring. Naptime writing is urgent writing, sometimes I think it might be my best thinking. This isn’t speculation: if theology – how we think about God and then how we live that out – isn’t for all of us, then what is it even for?
Caring for small children, being a homemaker, can be repetitive and ordinary: laundry, cleaning bathtubs, long walks made twice as long by wandering and questions, grocery shopping, nursing, all of it. Life is rarely as exciting as people like for it to appear on Facebook. We go to church, we participate in leadership meetings to shape the conversations of our communities, we pray for our friends, we make meals, I write posts and articles and books about God, we wash our minivans, we set up the sprinkler for the neighbourhood kids and hand out freezies to hopeful hands, we go to work, we talk about the people we know. Sacred and beautiful, sure, I’ll say that, but also slow and daily and sometimes monotonous, too.
But even in that ordinary work, I keep trying to give shape to the new world, to the dangerous possibilities of living our lives right now as if God saved everything, as if it is all redeemed or being redeemed. If what I believe about Love doesn’t find a roost here in my regular and ordinary and unremarkable life where I learn and practice what Eugene Peterson called “the biggest nouns and verbs,” then I have no right to those words in moments of transformation and change and importance. There are chickadees perched on the railings of the deck, just for a few seconds. They fly in, perch, flinch, and depart, over and over. I like to think they’re all checking for the crumbs leftover from the weekend of eating outside. Maybe they know which house has messy eaters.
My husband and I sat outside on Saturday night, watching the sun set. It’s nearly summer solstice and the days are long. We put the tinies to bed in broad daylight and settled onto our back deck, facing the forest. The sun sank behind the house and that last golden light of the day hit the trees. In the morning, the light is cool and white and sharpening; but in the evening, it’s warm and liquid, it softens the forest.
Brian and I talked about the regular things: should we move? should we stay? We talked about the kids and about work, about the plan for the week ahead. I’m distrustful of people who always seem to be thinking of deep spiritual things, always striving and going-going-going: I think they must be horrible to live with. I think we need the humanity of laughter and Netflix and ordinary life. We poured a glass of white wine each and wrapped ourselves up in blankets. Joe is reading under the covers with a flashlight, I think tonight he’s reading James and the Giant Peach. Anne has left Babysitters Club books littered around the house, Evelynn is devoted to Robert Munsch these days, of course – that slapstick humour perfectly suits her. I secretly love when they sneak-read. Is there any reading more delicious than that sneaky after-bedtime reading when you are a child? The evenings are still cold when the darkness gathers.
We were waiting for our owls. We have two owls out back, I’m not quite sure what kind, perhaps a western screech owl. We have heard that owls mate for life. I don’t know if that’s true or legend, but every year, we see two owls in the summer nights, year after year after year. Our owls come out to hunt. We like to sit there in the near-dark and watch them, swooping down to the forest floor, returning to rest on the branches of the trees with their prizes.
We had a long discussion about what to name our owls, pairs of names are always fun to consider. Romeo and Juliet? Peanut and Butter? Antony and Cleopatra? Nip and Tuck, á la The Blue Castle? Anne and Gilbert? Elizabeth and Darcy? We settled on Ron and Hermione since, well, they are owls and so the Harry Potter books are entirely appropriate.
I don’t think we’re going to move. And it’s entirely the fault of the forest. I live in a tidy little neighbourhood of identical houses, sure, and I don’t have a yard, I get it. But we have the silence of the night and a creek, we have Ron and Hermione, we have the trees, and I don’t think I’m ready to give that up. Maybe I’ll change my mind. A trampoline and a garden would be nice.
When life can feel a bit dull and prosaic, my forest nights somehow keep me grounded in the dense amazement of being alive. I remembered an old Roald Dahl quote I read once, “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
I believe in magic.
I believe in ordinary and repetitive and daily boring life and the way magic hides in plain sight.
I believe in church picnics and breastfeeding, I believe books matter and summer nights are for sitting outside while the sun sets. I believe in good coffee and eating berries off the bush. I believe in going for walks with children because they are so slow and perfectly inefficient. I believe our theology is formed in our lives and experiences, and I believe we need to listen to each other. I believe in working hard and loving what we do. I believe in unsupervised children and sidewalk chalk and sprinklers. I believe in kitchen tables and piles of books. I believe in windows being wide open while sun-tanned children go to sleep at a reasonable hour so that they can read under the covers with a flashlight. I believe in heavy blankets for cool summer nights and long conversations over a shared bottle of wine, I believe love lasts a lifetime even if it changes, and I believe in birdsong in the morning. I believe in owls.