When my husband and I moved to San Jose in 2015, I wasn’t prepared for life in a busier area. We’re on the corner of three very different neighborhoods, have wonderful neighbors, and can get to pretty much anywhere in San Jose quickly.
For a sense of peaceful connection with God, I need both nature and solitude. I love our bustling neighborhood, but it doesn’t meet my need for solitude. It then became a priority for me to make our backyard a place where I could experience nature and solitude.
Image courtesy of Marie Fang
I had originally aimed for something low-maintenance that I would only need to water on occasion. But as I educated myself on YouTube, I found myself leaning toward more extensive gardening. Before long, I was checking out library books about organic gardening and wildlife gardening. Rather than simply making a low-maintenance haven of solitude, I felt convicted about how much we humans have displaced the local wildlife through development, with little to no regard for the environment.
I got totally sucked in. Before I knew it, I had put a wildlife pond in the backyard in hopes of encouraging the local food chain to find safe haven in the yard. I sowed milkweed seeds, along with butterfly- and bee-friendly flowers, to encourage monarchs to visit our yard. I’m developing compost bins and reusing rainwater to supply the pond. Most recently, we began using a large construction bucket to collect excess shower water for use as a primary water source for the plants.
I think if you asked my husband, Daniel, what he thinks about all this, he might quietly tell you things got out of hand for me and my semi-crazed desire to make over the yard into a wildlife haven. I’m all in.
The yard is still a construction zone. All my plants came from seed or were bought half-dead from the one-dollar clearance aisle at the garden center, so they are small or keeled over sideways. There’s DIY furniture from our old redwood strewn about the yard.
But the wildlife is indeed coming! I have found a couple of pond residents, including the occasional newt. The bees have discovered the pond as a water source. Seeds I planted last year have re-sown themselves and are slowly growing throughout the yard, while the birds eat enough to keep them from taking over. Someday, I hope that frogs will find the pond and we’ll see a largely self-sustaining ecosystem that we can observe and enjoy.
Image courtesy of Marie Fang
Most days, I do some work on my yard. Even ten minutes there can change my outlook for the entire day.
Some of the magic is that I can connect with something truly beyond me. I steward and oversee the backyard, but none of it is living and growing by my power. The more I learn, the more amazed I become. Finding a caterpillar in the act of building its chrysalis or turning over a rock to discover a newt are moments I stop and think, “Whoa, what? This is a real thing that just happens? Crazy!” Every new discovery blows my mind.
When I began designing the yard, I had hoped to build it and leave it. I thought I could invest a high amount of energy up front and then sit back to reap the benefits.
Instead, I've found it much more rewarding to do a little bit every day, while the yard responds to my ongoing investment by growing and changing. If I were to leave it alone, it would become overgrown and wild. On the other hand, if I pulled out every weed and tried to make it just so, I would lose the joy of seeing how the garden responds to my minimally invasive efforts. Doing a bit each day allows the garden and its resident wildlife to do the rest of the work on their own.
As I allow the garden to unfold, I’m reminded how life tends to operate best through simple and small daily investments. God can take those efforts and do the rest for me.
As someone who’s prone to particularities and intervening to make everything perfect, I need this reminder—daily. Otherwise I’ll slide back into an anxious shell of myself, fluttering about to make my life perfect and missing out on the joy and freedom of letting life unfold.
There is an aspect of this experience that can make me feel a bit sad at times. I would like to think that I really could make all this magic happen by my own power.
But I didn’t educate the caterpillar about its future and teach it how to transform into a butterfly. I didn’t train the ladybugs to eat the aphids on the rose bush. Witnessing these things happen in the yard on their own forces me to release my false pride and acknowledge how small I am after all.
Despite this, there is a freedom in letting go of control while also appreciating the importance of my role. When we can strike a balance between taking ownership of what’s ours to oversee and taking a back seat to enjoy wherever God is taking us, we find beauty.
Marie Fang has attended The River since 2012. Before moving to the Bay Area, Marie was involved in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and at Coast Vineyard Church in San Diego. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and works part-time at Christian practices in San Francisco and San Jose.
Marie and her husband, Daniel, have been married since 2009. Marie is passionate about learning to love those who are frequently unloved and guiding others in their journey of developing a healthy sense of identity.