Unexpected Gifts

Nemo, our rescue beagle, loves everybody, but some people are particularly special to him.  The son and daughter-in-law who found him in the woods as a puppy and nursed him back to health and into our home.  Other family members.  My cleaning lady and my assistant, both of whom have provided pet care in the past.  

To show his love and appreciation, Nemo unfailingly greets them with gifts.  These are not necessarily things they would think of asking for.  A chewed up blanket.  A dirty sock straight from the laundry basket.  His leash.   Rarely Nemo’s own toys, I’ll admit, but still, you can’t fault the dog for his generosity and his desire to let visitors know they are treasured members of his pack.

Spring is not an unexpected gift, of course, although every year as winter drags on and on, we wonder if this is the year that spring forgot.  Then, a snowdrop pushes through ice-crusted soil, followed by crocus, daffodil, hyacinth and on a larger scale, forsythia. 

Here in Northern Virginia, we’re sure spring has arrived when cherry blossoms begin to appear.  And as they and the Japanese magnolias begin to fade and carpet the ground with pink, the dogwood, redbud appear, and finally, our glorious, breathtaking azaleas. Expected yes, but still, somehow, a surprise.

Nemo and I take a walk together every morning, another gift a beagle gives.  This time of year we take the same walk every day.  Up the road about half a mile from our house, is an embankment of azaleas on the edge of public land.  A genius planted them.  There are masses of every color, an azalea rainbow, and they open slowly, so that every day we have a different view to admire.  The show goes on for weeks, and we try not to miss a moment of it. 

This year the spring parade of color has lasted longer because of cool, wet weather.  That means we’ve been outside less often to enjoy it, but when we are able to get out, the sight and smell of spring is so heady, we can’t make ourselves go back inside. 

The best gifts are unexpected.  A gloomy spring whose glimpses of sunlight and bursts of color are appreciated that much more.  A silly beagle dropping an old sofa pillow at my feet out of love and gratitude.  And for me, this spring, those bursts of insights a novelist receives, those moments when, in the midst of kneading bread or sewing a quilt square, a plot point drops into place, or two characters have a conversation and I can only listen and nod. 

Maybe half of being alive is paying attention, and the other half is saying thank you.  Nemo has this figured out, but we humans can be slower.  Luckily, we have spring and azaleas to remind us.  For this, I’m grateful.


  1. Linda P. on April 29, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    What a beautiful sight! My little patch of azaleas are blooming also, a shame they don’t last longer. But I too, will say thank you!

    • Emilie Richards on April 29, 2011 at 2:29 pm

      Northern Virginia does azaleas so beautifully. The first spring I moved to VA (SW VA) I drove off the road and had to maneuver fast to keep from crashing when I realized this was a REAL spring–and probably my first. I’d never seen anything to rival it. Moss phlox, dogwoods, bulbs in bloom. But N VA is equally as beautiful. I’m glad you’re enjoying your azaleas. I guess this year the cold, rainy weather had a bonus effect.

  2. Linda P. on May 1, 2011 at 10:13 am

    I grew up in Alexandria & Arlington, but moved to FL soon after 7th grade. We’ve still been back, and my grandma’s yard was a beauty also!

  3. Kathlene on May 3, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    Thank you so much for taking me for a walk today. I needed that extra joy in my day. My two tiny Azaleas are blooming and I know they will grow into a mass of color someday. My tulips and grape hyacinths are showing their brilliance.

    Would love to visit VA in the spring. Thank you again and give Nemo a pat on the head from me.

    • Emilie Richards on May 3, 2011 at 2:52 pm

      I am glad you could visit in cyberspace. Nemo appreciates the pat. Nurture those azaleas.

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