The Unfurling of Ferns

It’s now officially summer! And it felt like it this weekend with hot and sunny Maryland weather!

Hiking along a favorite trail Saturday evening, my dogs and I came across a forest ridge filled with ferns—after some rain recently, everything is looking so green, lush, and alive!!

Ferns have been on my mind a lot over the past season and as I’ve reflected on the spring, and my hopes for it I wrote about here. It was a different spring for me. A spring without physical pain, where I could walk and explore. A spring where I had more time without a work commute. Yes, much still lurks under the surface, but it’s been a quiet spring.

And so I have gone to the woods. Like I always have over the years, to stay grounded, and connected to reality. To breathe the fresh air, to listen to the sounds of safe solitude. To connect with my Creator.

I’ve walked my favorite paths over and over again, and explored new trails that have become new favorites. I’ve delighted in spring ephemerals like bluebells, and woodland blossoms like mountain laurel. It’s been a beautiful spring—a good spring filled with beauty and newness and hope.

With spending so much time in the woods this spring, and my head and my heart in a much more clear place to take a slow pace, I was so much more keenly aware of the awakening woods and things like… ferns. Yes, simple ferns.

Ferns are fairly ubiquitous in the woods, but I suppose I had never noticed them in the springtime as they are coming up out of the earth, unfurling. But this spring I did! And wow, are they cool!!

Everywhere I turned in the woods this spring, these little fern coils kept jumping out at me—all different types of ferns. Seeing them progress over the weeks brought so much delight and joy! A friend even teased me on a hike for what she considered my over-exuberance for ferns!

But, that is who I’ve been this spring, a woman enthralled with ferns along woodland trails. It’s been a strange path that’s brought me to this place, of noticing and finding joy in unfurling ferns. A complicated one—one of grief and the feeling of missing out on so many other non-fern joys. A path that I wouldn’t choose, yet I’m grateful for how it’s refined me and for who I’ve become in my fern-awareness and appreciation. How to make sense of that? You don’t, you just accept it—while the sorrow can’t be erased, perhaps the hollowed out places can be filled with simple, reliable joy and contentment in the simple delights of this world? If we notice them—like unfurling ferns.

The ferns have also been teaching me about patience. The beauty of a vibrantly green lush fern starts with a little coiled spring, and slowly, slowly, with imperceptible changes each day, those little corkscrews become a woodland of glorious ferns.

Growth and beauty and flourishing take time. It’s hard to notice the movement day by day, but it’s happening. Because that is just how God, the author of beauty and flourishing, works. On the days I doubt, I go back to this truth. On the days it’s hard to go on, I cling to nature’s reminders of redemption.

And now, I think of the unfurling ferns as a reminder too. They will become a glorious forest floor of beautiful ferns, in time. The journey is often hard and confusing, yet there are still the sweet gifts of woodland delights to be found, for simple joy and reminders of truth.

A newly discovered song, an old hymn, God Moves in Mysterious Ways, also speaks to this beauty and the patience in trusting God’s guiding hand:

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
But trust Him for His grace
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face

His purposes will ripen fast
Unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste
But sweet will be the flower

Gratitude. Delight. Patience. Trust. These are the lessons of unfurling ferns. Enjoy the woodland blankets of them for now, and remember to look for the coils next spring!


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