Outside our door, earth is swollen and moist. Teetering between winter and spring, Nature is nine months pregnant. Reluctant to give birth, unable to avoid it. I know that feeling and forgive her moody mix of ice and sun.

The children and I squish across the yard to search for the strawberries and dandelions we remember. Instead we discover communes of zebra striped snail shells and pink-orange rocks that might sparkle in the sun after we wash them. Young hands stuff my pockets with special ones for best friends, teachers, and Daddy.

Riley, toddler plowing downhill to adolescent trees, loudly insists that I share his journey. With Mommy at his heels and plastic lawn mower full steam ahead, he is determined to explore the wilderness of our short loop of nature trail. Colleen quietly wills us to leave her digging in peace.

Branches boasting tiny marshmallows brush Riley's sleeves, his feet moving faster and farther than last year as he heads for the fence between us and the horse pasture. "Where are the horses, Mommy?" he demands.

No leaves, no flowers, no bugs, no tall grass, either. "We're outside," his acorn eyes plead, "where's all the stuff that's supposed to be here?" Good question, buddy. This isn't a rerun of the outside we remember. Naked, it's bigger, more provocative. So much coming to life.

Turning uphill, my eyes fix on the purple-jacketed girl forty yards away. Through the tree's lacy web Colleen is safely in sight. Soon these trees, cloaked in summer's garb, will prevent even this secret glimpse. They remind me that I release her gladly, every day, to grow. Out of my sight she blossoms, in school and dance class and at the houses of friends whose mothers serve blue drinks with oreos for morning snack.

Lilac limbs launching shoveled dirt, she is digging deep to plant grass seed. Colleen doesn't know much about seeding the earth, only that grass seeds should become grass. I'm glad she wants a deep pocket for her seeds.

Like her I'm not always sure how to make my seeds flower, so I plant deep with my children. Scattering the surface might not be good enough.

Freed clumps of mud and rock catapult around her until she uncovers a worm, and screams, "What should I do?" She is crying. I wonder how she came to be six without some nonchalance about worms. Surely some oversight of mine that could hinder her independent march and full scholarship, I hope, to college.

"What if a bird gets it?" she sobs, *responsible* for the worm whose safety she's removed. Not afraid, not even whiny. Reassurance about the plenitude of worms is received dubiously, and the notion that birds are supposed to get worms is unacceptable. This is her worm.

Does she imagine we could save it in a Tupperware container, nursing it to maturity? I admire her early maternal instinct. Like me, she's reluctant to allow her baby outside and vulnerable. Tears stop only when her earthy find burrows back into the dirt. I like it when God's spineless creatures take care of themselves.

It's easy to allow nature's autonomy here in the yard. I'm relieved that so much grows without my help. My children I garden more intently , watering, weeding, and watching. After all, these buds are mine.

Write "Ellavon" at ellavon@ellavon.com.
Editor: Robert Basil. Special thanks to June Denbigh, Ray Szeto, and the Raylock Design Group.
Copyright retained by all contributors.

Released: March 1, 1998