Last summer my friend Lori emailed me. "What do you want from the States?" she asked. She and her daughter were coming soon to visit, and they wanted to bless us.
I didn't have to think long.
"Tulip bulbs," I wrote.
Lori and I come from a city in Iowa that has been voted Most Beautiful Small Town in the Universe by every journalistic genre in the world.
And here's why: Tulips. Hundreds of thousands of them. Every year for three days in May, a million people (no exaggeration!) show up for Tulip Time. It's a glorious celebration of our Dutch heritage. (Once, some visitors from Holland declared that our town was more Dutch than the Netherlands.) We crown a Tulip Queen, guys. And we have SIX parades. But the main draw is the vast stretches of tulip beds.
So I assumed obtaining tulip bulbs would be a cinch for Lori.
There was nary a bulb to be found. Not in our town, nor any other in Iowa. August is not the time to plant bulbs, don'tcha know?
Well, our mutual friend Carol got wind of the search. Carol was in the hospital battling cancer for the ninth year in a row.
"I have tulip bulbs in my garage. I want Wendy to have them." She--or some family member--had dug them up after Tulip Time. A perk of living in Our Town.
"Oh, no," exclaimed Lori.
"I insist," determined Carol.
And that's how I ended up with Carol Schulte's tulips.
A friend and I visited Carol when I was in America last January. She didn't look like herself. But four minutes after our arrival, she looked exactly like herself. Because I stopped looking on the outside. She was the same exuberant, math-loving, deep thinking, adventure-seeking, God-pursuing soul she always had been.
We talked about important things. Children. Husbands. Dying. Jesus. Regrets. Joys.
We cried. We prayed. We reminisced.
It wasn't all upbeat.
But it was all real.
Two weeks later she beheld Jesus himself. In person.
And I went home to Kyrgyzstan.
Spring comes early to Kstan. Little green shoots show up before you're even expecting them. Last month I stepped outside and noticed.
Carol Schulte's tulips were sprouting.
Last week they started blooming. Pink and white and red and yellow surprises.
I can't walk by without a pang and a pleasure.
Even if they're not the vast colorways of our Dutch-American, festival town, they are deeply beautiful. Stately, stunning, friendly and welcoming.
Beauty and ugliness coexist side by side in Kyrgyzstan almost everywhere.
For the most part we've learned to see selectively and not let the nasty overshadow the nice.
Just a couple days ago Calla and I dragged Theo and Nial away from their studies and up the hill. As we trudged up, Calla and I both commented on the teeny wild flowers poking up through the new grass.
Nial laughed and said, "I looked down and just saw poop everywhere."
We looked again.
Sure enough, sheep manure and horse "apples" vastly outnumbered the pink and purple and yellow wild flowers.
I guess we stepped around the poop and immediately forgot it. Flowers are infinitely more noteworthy.
All that to justify posting almond blossom pictures yet again.
You see, with almond trees in bloom, you hardly have to ignore anything. It's all spectacular.
Yesterday Calla went running miles away from here and discovered an orchard that went on forever upwards and outwards.
Until the four-year-old did a head-over-heels face-plant in a pile of, you guessed it, horse poop.
You can't ever completely escape the muck of this world--even in a heavenly-scented fairy land.
She was fine. After a few spits.
I wish I could give you the scope and breadth of these trees. Alas, I didn't even have my wide-angle lens.
Even so, I hope you can picture yourself here, breathing deeply of other-worldly scents.
While watching your step.
A symbol, in my mind at least, of the sacred and secular forever mingling.