Down in the Valley

“The deer are eating on the small trees at Eisenlohr’s again.”

My father had made the announcement over breakfast a couple of days ago.

…which was why I was here now, wandering the cherry orchard, stapling dryer sheets around the branches of small trees.  The theory is that the deer do not like the scent and will leave the tree alone.  This only works, of course, for as long as the scent lasts.  Once that is gone, the deer will be back.

I was armed with a nail apron, faded logo emblazoned across the front.  It was full, not of nails (as was designed), but of dryer sheets and extra staples for my staple gun.  The staple gun dangled at my fingers as I walked the rows of half-grown trees.  My sun hat, perched above my long brown braids, gave my shadow an Asian flavor.  My fingers were thick with a heavy smoothness, coated with dryer sheet perfume.  The grass was tall, heavy with pollen, and dotted with flowers – bright yellow sunshine here, dusty purple clouds there.

This year has not been kind to the trees.  The small trees show many signs of deer.  Their tender new leaves have been munched down to the stem.  Here and there a limb has been broken by a little brown deer jerking a leaf off a branch that was nearly too high for her.  I can’t help but think how funny it is that in a profession where one is most at harmony with Creation – working closely with it every day and coming to know it like a family member – one is also having to fight it.  The deer are a constant threat to young trees and it takes many tactics – dryer sheets, soap bags, liquid fence spray, actual fencing – to keep them in check….to keep them from killing the trees.  There are many things around this orchard that the deer could eat instead, but for some reason, they prefer the tenderness of newborn cherry tree leaves.

The deer are not the only things that have been hard on the trees.  A late spring frost has left its mark.  There are cherries hanging from the branches on the tops of the hills, but very little in the valleys.  The frost had settled in the valleys in the spring and killed the blossoms, making the low-lying trees less fruitful.  I wish that I could fix this problem with a dryer sheet…or a fence…or a bag of soap…but I can’t.

So I work on fixing the problems that I can.

As the sun glances down, as my perfumed fingers staple another dryer sheet to another wounded tree, as a bird releases a song from the sky, I suddenly feel the need to send up a quiet prayer of thanksgiving.  I am surrounded by a quiet beauty and suddenly I know that I am where I belong – here, in this orchard, with the birds and the sun and the trees.

A couple of weeks ago I heard that an acquaintance of mine will be going on a mission trip to a foreign country for two years to teach English.  When I heard this, I felt a sudden pang of longing.  My adult life thus far has been persistently sprinkled with long-term volunteer work, or mission trips that last for a month.  And I have loved it.  But lately I have realized that I am starting to say good-bye to it…starting to let go.  I am getting to the point where long-term volunteering is no longer a part of my life plans.  And there’s a sense of loss that comes with that.

Although not without hard times, it is easy when your life revolves around volunteer work to find a deep sense of purpose in your work.  It is easy to form meaningful relationships, easy to feel comfortable with those around you – because, after all, they’re God-loving, service-minded Christians just like you.  It is easy to find yourself blinking back tears of joy.  It is easy to grow in leaps and bounds and to see others around you do so as well.  It’s wonderful.

Out in the “real world” (as we in the CAP world always called it), it’s not so easy.  Growth comes slowly.  Work is often more likely to cause tears of frustration than tears of joy.  Not everyone is Christian – not everyone loves God or service – heck, a lot of people could care less about anyone except themselves.  Work doesn’t always feel meaningful…doesn’t always have a deep sense of purpose.  It can be discouraging.

But there is beauty in it, too.

And, perhaps, it is just as meaningful, just as impactful, as an uplifting mission trip after all.  Perhaps those fruitful high places, those mission trips up in the mountains, are really only there to strengthen you for when you find yourself back down in the frost-scarred valley…subdued, with dirt under your fingernails, dryer sheet perfume coating your fingertips, and a wide-brimmed hat shielding you from sunburn.

Not jumping for joy…

…but knowing that here, in this place, is where I belong, with a heart full of love and hands ready to do whatever God wills; not climbing mountains, but walking quietly alone in the valley, weaving myself into the fabric of Creation.