Mary Lou sank the trowel into the soft ground, digging down to sever the root of the offending dandelion. Several of the weeds sported bright yellow flowers and she found herself feeling a bit sad that she was removing these vivid spots of color from her brown lawn right in the middle of winter. Still, she knew that it was a gift to have such an unseasonably warm February day to attend to this task as well as the time to garden on a weekday when most other people had to reserve their precious weekends to get their hands in the soil. She was retired now and could do this sort of work whenever she wanted, which felt good. She sighed. Too bad it had taken Jacob’s death to finally motivate her to seize the moment.
She felt a surge of sadness well up inside of her. Jacob, her beloved only son, who had died just three years before in an auto accident on a rainy afternoon. Her sweet boy driving a little too fast on a rain-slick road, hitting the brakes one second too late as a light changed. When he slid into that intersection had he known this was his last moment on earth or had he been looking the other way when the car plowed right into his driver’s side door? Had he felt any pain? Had he suffered for a few unbearable seconds? She had run the scene over a million times in her head: Jacob driving along, probably singing to a song on the radio, one minute full of life and the next, lying dead. The authorities told her he had died on impact. She hoped to heaven that he had. Mary Lou felt the familiar tears wet her cheeks and used the back of her sleeve to wipe them away. She didn’t want her husband to see that she’d been crying again, not on this glorious February day.
As Mary Lou leaned back on her heels to rest, she noticed a slight movement in the grass not far from where she was working. Peering closer, she saw a slim snake not two feet away. He was young, no longer than 10 inches, with brown skin and two beige stripes spanning the length of his body. Mary Lou suspected this was a common garter snake and posed no harm to her, but since she was, as a rule, afraid of any slithering reptile, she normally would have run for a hoe. Today, however, she found herself strangely more sympathetic than fearful. This little fellow seemed to be enjoying the warm sun as much as she was, simply lying in an S-shape, his coloring blending with the winter grass and bare ground. She marveled at the how perfectly he was protected with that design, the fact that she had noticed him at all was only because of his slight movement.
She went back to her weeding, filling her bucket with dandelions, forming a growing concentric swirl of green. Unlike the beige lines on the little snake’s body, so straight and color coordinated with its brown skin, these leaves were irregular in size and shape, with stems of varying lengths. They veritably screamed, “Weed!” as if to inform the public of the menace they presented. She had read, though, that eating the leaves directly or brewing them into a tea was an aid to digestion. How odd that thought was: a pernicious weed, the bane of any lawn or garden, helping the people who were trying so hard to eradicate it – but only if they were aware of its benefit hidden deep inside.
The sun was sinking in the west when Mary Lou, back stiff from bending, gathered up her trowel and buckets and headed off to toss her afternoon’s labor into the garden bin in the alley. On her way, she stopped near the spot where she had seen the little snake earlier and peered in the grass to see if she could again spot him. All she could see was the beige of the winter grass and the dark brown on the ground underneath. He was now safely hidden from any predators, including herself, who might harm him.
Once in the alley, she took a handful of the dandelion plants, shook them to remove any dirt, and put them back in her bucket. After she had the chance to wash them, she’d see if there was some truth to them being helpful for indigestion. She had been plagued with a nightly stomach ache ever since Jacob’s death; something she had accepted as part of her grieving process. But maybe it was time to learn from nature. Maybe it was possible that something unexpected could be healing if she saw it in a different light. She thought of that little snake no doubt now safe in its den. Her dear Jacob was safe as well. Not in the way she would have ever wished, god forbid, but out of harm’s way, nonetheless.
She sighed as she admired the crimson sunset that splashed over the western sky. “A different light indeed,” she whispered, then felt quietly at peace.