"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
May 14, 2014
Beauty All Around
by Marian Stoddard

Spring has just been a delight to me this year. Last year we were in the tumult of relocation and adjustments, and it was harder to pay real attention to the things I love about springtime. Everything turns green again, of course, but I particularly love the flowers and flowering trees.

I remember a redbud tree out the kitchen window in my parents' first house, where I lived when I was little. They don't seem to have them here. I was also aware that forsythia was yellow and the earliest bush to bloom, spotting it as we drove about, though I don't think we had any.

Then, when we moved to the house my parents lived in for more than forty years, it was a whole different world. The house was in a development zoned for half-acre lots, and the forest had been left alone as much as possible.

(The development that went in behind us a few years later simply bulldozed to the back property line, then came back later to plant new ones. The first big trees behind them were ours.)

There was mountain laurel, wild dogwood, tulip poplars (a huge shade tree), and we found and identified a wild orchid in the middle of the woods. Instead of a fenced square of grass, we lived in a riot of green. My father planted azaleas and rhododendrons, and put in flower beds.

Rhododendrons are a big deal here, and I think azaleas in various colors grow everywhere. I spotted a huge rhododendron this week, deep red, which was as tall as the house it was next to, and full of blooms all the way to the ground. Almost all the dogwoods here were pink dogwoods, not the natural white ones, and very few of those, but I have seen many more this year.

The city planted Japanese cherry blossoms in our neighborhood about fifteen years ago, which I missed very much last year when we had to move. I confess to taking a quick detour a couple of times this April to see how they were doing, but I have enjoyed the white flowering trees that I have discovered run through this section, not just our block, as I go out walking.

I have no idea what they are, but it's apparent that the city planted the neighborhood with them, long ago, because they run in rows down several of the streets.

There are trees I can now identify by name that I never knew before, because I have become a reader of nursery catalogs. (That's a story for another day.) I see them as I drive by and say to myself, "Boy, those get huge." Be aware of the future; some of these trees are twenty feet tall or more.

I've become a spotter of lilacs, and the new deep purples and the white ones are my favorites. We had a bedraggled ordinary light colored lilac tree in the back corner by the garage at the old house, and I never cut pieces and brought them in. I didn't pay much attention to them, because we didn't use the garage; I would do better now.

There's a progression in this whole process, as the first things to bloom fade into the green they will be for the rest of the season, and something else comes to its readiness and opens up with color. The dogwoods are doing that, different trees are turning from flower to leaf in different ways; I saw one yesterday whose center section was still all pink while the circumference was green, rather than the spotty remainder of flowers sprinkled through the leaves. Even trees have their own individuality.

The nameless white trees that look like apple blossoms but aren't are the first out. Cherry blossoms follow, some earlier than others.

As they fade out, the rhododendrons come into their own. Camellias bridge those bloom times, azaleas bloom and stay a long time, lilacs are everywhere, and summer flowers are yet to come.

Don't forget the magnolia trees -- large and majestic, they can stop me in my tracks. I altered my daily walking path when I discovered a corner with a cluster of four different magnolias to pause under and gaze up through the branches.

There are tulips and daffodils on the ground early, and other types of flowers later. Each in its own season, and all a work of beauty.

The loop going on in the back of my head has been the song from the children's songbook:

I think the world is glorious, and lovely as can be.
The birds and bees and blossoms bring
Sweet messages to me.
I sing, and sing, and sing, and sing,
A song of joy and love.
I sing, and sing, and sing, and sing
My thanks to God above.

The flowers that make me sing may not be your favorites. I have certainly looked at some, in pictures or up close, and admired them but decided that I don't want to actually have them. A few I think are weird.

Toad lilies, for instance, don't appeal to me at all, but many other lilies I adore. There are types of flowers or other plants that I love the look of, but they wouldn't be suitable for the space or conditions I have to work with, and that's all right. I can savor the sight of them when I encounter them elsewhere.

Emerson said, "Beauty is its own excuse for being". (In other words, beauty is reason enough for something to exist. In all the glories of this creation, made for us, beauty was part of the purpose.

Beauty, really, is our label for those things that speak to our hearts and our sense of wonder. They are the echoes of the joy we knew in the presence of our Father in the life we came from.

There is beauty all around us, also, in the faces of those we love, in the presence of those who are dear to us. Beauty shines in the eyes of faith and the smiles of welcome as we gather as Saints in the kingdom. Love lifts our spirits and our awareness of our blessings.

All things made for us have their own place and time. The seasons will turn, and they will return again, each with a purpose and gift for our lives.


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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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