Appalachian Spring


Two nights ago, my husband and I dressed up and played grown-ups for a bit. He had purchased tickets to a RSO performance of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring and we decided to make a night of it—babysitter, dinner at a downtown restaurant, the works. 

If you’ve never heard Appalachian Spring, I must caution you that your humanity may not yet be fully realized. It’s not that this particular piece of music is an essential part of the process of sanctification, but it is one of the clearest expressions of common grace that I’ve yet to encounter. Originally composed as a ballet, the score tells the story of a newly married couple on the Appalachian frontier who face their future with courage and determination. I first heard it from my father’s record player as a child, and growing up in those same hills, it was impossible that the music would not etch itself on my soul.

Spring in Appalachia is a strange mix of hope and persistence. The dark, dreary days of winter do not go easily; they die off slowly--as my mother described it recently—like a Shakespearean hero. But steadily, the mud and slog and slosh is replaced by bits of green and yellow. The crocuses and forsythia bloom and the hills begin to color, budding in the same gentle hues that will eventually consume them six months later. And finally, finally, you know spring has come when you hear the faint, sweet mating calls of the tree frogs that we call simply “spring peepers.” Clustered around lakes and streams, these little frogs sing to their loves, their warbles and chirrups echoing the hope and anticipation that the rest of us feel.

I attended university in South Carolina, and during the spring of my sophomore year, I found myself feeling particularly homesick. For this northern girl, this thing that they called “spring” would have been more accurately described as one head-long plunge directly into summer. I wandered around campus in a funk—not even really knowing or understanding what was wrong. Then one day, I found a package in my campus mail box. Inside was a cassette tape from my father. He had taken a trip to the lake about two miles from our house and recorded the spring peepers.

I cried.

My roommates figured I was nuts; and when I told my friends about it, they thought that “spring peepers” where baby chicks. Their responses simply deepened my sense of alienation. Here I was, a country girl in the big city surrounded by people who had never heard Appalachian Spring and didn’t have the slightest concept of the significance of spring peepers.

Until one evening. A boy that I had been getting to know over the last several weeks had asked me to dinner and afterwards, we were walking to the library where I worked. As is the case when you don’t know someone well, the conversation quickly turned to the weather. It was springtime after all, and despite the inadequacies of one lived in South Carolina, you can always talk about spring.

“You know what I miss most,” I ventured, carefully putting forward a test to determine whether or not this fellow was worth further consideration. “I miss spring peepers. My dad sent me a recording of them and I’ve been listening to it constantly.”

“Oh I know what you mean,” he answered, this slightly-awkward religion major who dressed in mismatched hand-me-downs but who had those interesting brown eyes and auburn hair, “I miss them too—especially right about this time of night when they’re just coming out.”

My heart stopped. “So you know that they’re not baby chicks?”

“Of course not, who’d be so dumb to think they were?”

Most of the time, we expect God’s providence to reveal itself with the audacity of a Las Vegas neon sign. We expect Him to shout His will from the mountaintops when in reality, most of the time, He simply whispers it. It doesn’t unfurl so much as unfold in a gentle, persistent way.

Because as much as I loved growing up in Appalachia, I never really expected to stay here. At five, I planned to be a missionary nurse in the jungles of Africa, living in a hut, eating flying insects, and standing up to angry chieftains. At fifteen, my dreams morphed to living beside the sea (in no less than a lighthouse) and running an orphanage for middle school boys. Never once did I anticipate becoming a pastor’s wife in a rural context similar to the one I had grown up in.

Never once did I anticipate that I’d marry a boy because he knew what spring peepers were.

But this is how our God works. He uses all things—all the things that we consider inconsequential, all the things that we chafe at—to orchestrate His plan for our lives. And the wonder of it all is that He sovereignly guides both Nature and Nurture to make us precisely who we are supposed to be.

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving home in my husband’s pick-up after our mid-week prayer service. He had already taken our three little ones home because I needed to stay to practice in a women’s trio that was slated to sing the following Sunday. By the time I left, it was already dark and the ground was damp with that persistent Appalachian mist that hovers and crawls on little cat feet. As I approached a narrow bridge that straddles a creek, I slowed and rolled down my windows. And there they were. Those spring peepers singing their love song, singing their love song of spring in Appalachia.

And I knew that all was as it should be. All was right in the world. I knew I was precisely where God had always planned for me to be.