I am on page 99 of 216 of the little, rough-edged book with the purple words, white roses and a butterfly on the front. The minute I picked it up and started reading, I thought I had found a kindred spirit, and yet, 2 months later, the poor kindred spirit still likes largely untouched beneath a stack of equally untouched books.
“Who are the placemakers?” says the book. “They are often the ones who look like fools. They follow extravagant and impractical dreams. While the world races past on smooth concrete, they patiently tend soil with a yearly application of chopped leaves and the clearings from the henhouse. They plant trees they will never live to see full-grown. They know the names and the histories of the antique roses. Who are the placemakers? They are the ones who gaze out over emptiness and, sometimes through tears, see shimmering possibility.” [Christine Purifoy]
Perhaps it was “placemaking” or that innate desire to create something, leave something better, and leave your mark on the world, that led me to build forts at age 10 and beyond. Summertime at our prairie home was riddled with mosquito bites, sticky humid air and dirty hands and feet. All of that did not keep us from flying out to the woods at the first chance we could get, yelling like wild hooligans, barefeet slapping on the wet grass and wood-chips. We climbed the fallen oak tree that lead to our cove of forts and crawled on hands and knees among the sticks and mud and weeds we had gathered to make our precious homes.
Deep into the fall, after the dairy farmer had harvested his field corn, we would scavenge bits of broken corn cobs, grind them to pieces and make cornmeal, while trading them among each other for sumac berries or bark. Those were the days when you would go to bed tired, hot and thinking of what you would do tomorrow. Those were the nights of crickets chirping, lightning bugs floating through the air just outside your window, and an occasional howl of a coyote. I spent countless hours and summertimes on those forts – tearing down, building up, making better, perfecting.
Today, I wake up to the sound of Harley Davidsons making a late night dash to the other part of town – for who knows what. Or sometimes it is the bark of a stray dog that I hear, or the loud voice of a neighbor, one block away. I don’t know these people, I don’t know this land. I know there is no more building forts here or bartering with sumac, or living my summers outdoors. I love the county. I always will. But today, there is a little apartment on Virginia Ave that I call home. And this my place and my placemaking.
Two Saturdays ago, I spent the morning with my “kindred spirit”. She grew up in the country too – rode sheep, and planted, harvested and sold and everything in between. Today, she lives in a townhouse on the outskirts of a rural community. I wandered around her place with her, watching her talk about growing plants, buying furniture, decorating and all the plans for this little, beautiful place. She holds something in her hands and it is not the fleece of a sheep or the feathers of a chicken. She is placemaking; she is making something out of nothing and calling it home.
I miss the trees and the grass and the sunshine and not caring if I have makeup on today or if my hair looks half decent. I miss that carefree, happy spirited child that knew but didn’t worry about what was for dinner because she could smell mama cooking it. I miss feeding the cows that meandered down the field next to us and look disdainfully upon our attempts to feed them grass. I want to be a placemaker. I want to take whatever is now given me and make it more beautiful. I want to dream and hope and gaze out over the emptiness, the flat concrete, the endless buildings and know that even in this, God has made a place for me.
I spent Sunday making pie. It seemed a toilsome, long, hot process. In the end, I came out with a rather sad, imperfect creation. The pie would, soon enough be eaten. But as the rhubarb bubbled up from the inside, and the smell of summertime filled my small kitchen, I smiled in gratitude for this – my place. I want to be one who handles the things of this world with a grateful touch. Who leaves it better for the next person. One who sees the possibility of what something could become and puts in the legwork or armwork or brainwork to make it better.
I think of boss man, who pours into his work day and night. He’ll pass that work on to another one day. He’s planting trees that he’ll never see full grown, but he’s planting all the same. It’s the same with this apartment; this work I do; the artwork that I had commissioned; the plant pots I painted; the pie I made that got eaten; the calligraphy I use on my letters. Silly and unnecessary? Or perhaps it’s leaving fingerprints and landmarks and doing faithful work that sometimes only God sees.
“With God’s help, we can pick up the pieces of an old and dying world, and we can make them new.”
He is making all things new. Let’s pull up the weeds, plant the flowers. Knowing we must do it again next year. Let’s gather the rhubarb and make a pie, knowing that 10 minute later it will be gone. Let’s join in this work of rebuilding and making beautiful.
(quotes attributed to Christine Purifoy, Placemaker)