Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Desert Land of Milk and Honey

(A fictional account of our beginnings in Australia)
Debby Alten

He will comfort all her waste places; and He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the Garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody (Isaiah 51:3).

“Mamma, is that our new home?” I whispered.

“Yes, Deborah,” she whispered back. My hand reached for hers as Papa surveyed the dry dusty earth that swirled endlessly in the hot summer wind.

“Rather creepy,” he said, “the way the wind stirs the dirt and howls around the house.”

“But it’s our house, Papa,” I said with all the wisdom of an eight-year-old.

He looked lovingly at Mamma and smiled. “It is indeed.”

In the dusk hours, the Australian sky bloomed with purple and orange clouds. The last of the sun’s rays bounced off the dusty windows and did its best to light our path. Mamma said our house was in the middle of nowhere.

“Nonetheless,” she continued, “it stands guard like a lighthouse ready to signal ships to safety.”

The desert, no doubt, was like a rough sea to us, with hidden rocks and sandy imprints of slithering snakes.

Eventually, to separate this sea from his family, Papa built a brick wall that loomed up and around the house. At its peak it stood parallel to the red shingles of our roof.

“Play within the wall,” Papa told me. “It is by far safer on the inside.”

I trusted his words, even though I didn’t quite understand them. I might not have believed them either. It seemed quite safe outside the wall. What lives out there that could possibly hurt me? Papa knew, he always knew. And so I trusted.

“A good life,” he said. “A very good life.”

Our wall of golden bricks had a white wooden gate that led to the ominous outside world, as Papa would call it. I was not allowed to walk through that gate without him. However, that restriction, of course, was much too great a temptation for a young girl. Many times I walked upon the wall with fearless abandon to examine the land from east to west. Nothing, I thought. No enemy to rush the walls of my fort.

Once, and only once, did I open the rusty lock of the white gate and attempt a doomed-from-the-beginning escape. A few good yards away from home, just when I was celebrating my freedom, a long brown snake, with its skin nicely camouflaged against the desert ground, skidded inches away from my ankles.

But before I could yell, “Papa!” it was Mamma who came running to my aid. She screamed in anger at the snake and frantically waved a yellow broom. She pounced on that snake who must have regretted the day he slid too close to Mamma’s child. She was a small woman, but at that moment she was strong, gigantic and heroic. From that day on, as she carried me to safety, I would never see her in any other way.

As time would have it, there was nothing I viewed in quite the same way. The narrow path that meandered from the front door to the gate was like a big red stop sign—do not travel. I came to adore and respect our wall as each morning the sun kissed every brick and made it warm and inviting to the touch. Bathing in sunshine and dew, sparkling like a million jewels. Our shield, from the harsh winds that whistled a haunting song, was strong. We were safe after all.

And even though the land’s barrenness stretched out as far as the eye could see, I felt something divine about our little place under the sky. Mamma felt it too.
“It’s the soil,” she said. “There’s a secret in this soil.” Her voice was soft and her eyes dreamy as she smoothed the dry cracks in the ground with a gentle hand. “The dust won’t choke us.”

Mamma and Papa worked tirelessly, tilling the parched land with only a rusty shovel and their bare hands. Their skin bronzed by the burning sun. Soon the sea of dry dust no longer swirled inside our wall. It drank the cool clear water Mamma sprinkled generously over it. She knew there was fertile soil under the desiccated desert.

I watched her as the water fell, in slow motion it seemed, touching the thirsty earth with glistening pearls. The sea of dust and dryness brought forth waves of blue, yellow and fiery red flowers. All danced in perfect harmony to music not heard by human ears.

A short journey through the high gates, their wrought-iron bars decorating each side of the house, would bring one to the oasis Mamma and Papa created and called the out-back-garden. Here the sea of blue and red flowers gave way to a cool ocean of fresh, green grass.

The hidden soil here produced large, juicy red tomatoes and fresh, crisp cucumbers. Brilliant orange carrots of flame and fire snapped loudly as Mamma broke them in half to fit in her old cast-iron pot.

“What’s your favorite part of the garden, Mama?” I would ask.

“Oh, that’s a hard question,” she answered. Then she added,

“Did you finish reading the book I told you to read.

“No, Mamma, not yet.”

It was hard being home schooled. There were so many distractions for a girl such as me. A cascading grapevine that crawled up the side of my bedroom wall was a constant source of daydreaming. Thick clusters of green grapes poured down the walls like a waterfall.

“I’m going swimming, Mamma,” I would tell her.

“What?” She laughed. “Stop looking at the grapevine, Deborah.”

I sunk my head deep into my book but soon was watching the banana tree that towered over the brick wall. Always swaying it was, ever so gently when touched by the breath of the wind.

After my studies I was allowed to pick mangoes, guavas, passion fruit and papaya for Mamma to adorn a few baskets for the mailman who never minded the long trip to our house. The baskets were garnished with sprigs of mint and bordered with red and yellow bell peppers.

Mr. Peevey, more of an everything-delivery man, came in a small twin engine plane carrying a bag with a months worth of mail and a dozen large boxes with supplies.

“Hello, Mr. Peevey.”

“Hello, Taylor, and how are you?”

He handed me the bag of mail as I surrendered the empty one from the month before. Mr. Peevey enjoyed his time with us which was usually a couple of hours or so as he enjoyed the fruits of my parents’ labor. He was our connection to the world beyond our oasis and he usually brought gifts like ice-cream and candy. By the time he left, Mamma and Papa had caught up with world events and local news—all for the price of mangoes, guavas, passion fruit, papaya and other garden delicacies.

“Bye, Mr. Peevey!” I hollered. “Come back soon.” I watched his plane, waved as he did a fly-by, until it disappeared over the hues of the horizon.

Maybe one day, I always thought, I will fly away with him. Will I ever be old enough to walk through the gate without Papa?

The day, of course, came. Mamma and Papa had raised me for it. They could only assure my safety for a time and I could only reassure them they had done a good job.

As I moved away to go to school far across the ocean I remembered our miracle garden. When the dry, dusty desert, where nothing grew, came to settle in my heart, God the Father gently reminded me that He is that living water I thirst for.

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