Day to day observations, trials and triumphs.
Wonder for the common and uncommon.
Stepping back to gain perspective.
A Lesson in Seasons
We've had a couple of very unseasonably and unreasonably warm days this past week. It is deep winter, so thoughts of the garden did not cross my mind until a friend mentioned how she had been working outside during the cold and thereby freezing her fingers in the post-frozen soils of her garden beds, when, had she but waited, she could have done all that in these unusual balmy days of December.
Oh. I thought. I should have been working in the garden. Missed my chance! But, unlike my friend, I don't plan to care for the garden during the months of cold. I consider this time to be "months off," when both the garden and I rest and prepare to take the deep breath needed before charging in to the early spring tasks of cleaning and preparing the beds and setting up grow lights in the mud room. I look out the windows toward the gardens and feel no draw--no desire to get out and get dirty. I do an occasional walkabout, and merely shrug at the weeds and twigs and all manner of thing that could be accomplished. I'm on short day mode, semi-hibernating, and happy here.
But I know all that will change when the time is right...when the lengthening days flip a switch in my soul and call me out. The process echoes the wisdom of the book of Ecclesiastes (or, if you prefer, the song by the Byrds.) There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.
The hard part is recognizing the seasons, and how sometimes I push on an issue out of time. Like my friend who reaped frozen fingers in her garden, I seek an unsanctioned vision, and find myself at best spinning my wheels, or at worst, shutting off whatever grace there would have been in that direction. That's my gentle way of saying I damage my own walk. It's so hard to rest...to rest...to rest. To rest involves trust, an inhuman level of trust that we are indeed called to, but cannot accomplish in our own strength and inclination. There is such joy there, such peace. The place where our wheels no longer spin, both outwardly in our material efforts, or inwardly, in our pattern of self-condemnation.
My hope for you, as for all of us, is that this new year find you resting in the pure life of your Creator and delighting in the wisdom of the seasons.
Three seed catalogues arrived in the mail the other day. The garden asleep, and my heart elsewhere for the season, the catalogues come with full intent to awaken hopes and dreams for the growing season to come. I am normally quite bored by seed catalogues--after all, a tomato is a tomato is a tomato--and I have always wondered at how there could possibly be so many pages dedicated to the tomato. Then the cucumber. Then beans, etc.
But this time I sat and actually read the section descriptions--and some of the species descriptions, to boot! And I got excited about the potential for certain plants, and could envision how they might fit in the garden this year, if only they behave as described in the catalogue. I wanted to jump up and fetch a marker and circle the ones I obviously need. I wanted to design the perfect three packs of mixed types in order to massage the existing garden design into future--hopefully productive--glory.
But seeds or plants? I could get ninety seeds for less than three plants. Or 65 seeds for less than one, depending on species. Would the seeds grow? Do I really need ninety of them? If I pay the bucks for the plants, will they grow better? Will I, in fact, kill them...either by delaying their planting or some future neglect. Seeds seem safer, in general.
But I have started seeds indoors, and I have direct sown, and this I have to say about direct sowing, at least in my particular garden (maybe not yours). I direct sow an area in the garden and wait for the babies to come up, and when they do, they don't all look alike. And I don't know which is the actual veggie or flower plant. The preponderance of weeds keeps me guessing, and I am ashamed to say that last year I rid our front planter area of some ornamental perennials in favor of some other spurious characters. Expletive deleted.
I am chagrined to note that receiving mid-winter seed catalogues would send me spiraling into a frenzy of doubts and hopes. It's as if I have the proverbial angel on one shoulder and devil on the other: "Hold on, not so fast." "Oh that might be good as a space-saver." "Will it really grow like that?" "That's too many seeds." "That's because they don't all germinate." "One of those would be good...that price is ok." "Too much, too much, too much." "Ooooh. That would be lovely!"
I will leave it to you to determine which one is which.
And I have put the catalogue on the shelf for future ruminations. Or perhaps to see who, between those sitting on my shoulders whispering in my ears, wins the debates.
The question remains....what was the outcome of the weed confusion? Were the two plants the same species . . . just looking different in a different micro-climate?
Of course, looking at the pictures side by side now they look totally different, though it was not so clear in the garden. So I waited for them to mature, and, sure enough, the one in the lavender bed grew into something different.
Different, but not so very interesting. So whether it was a doppelganger of the award winning weed of the year or not, its differentiation was insufficient for me to have mercy. No flowers, no "fruit"...nothing but imitating Mr. Weed of the Year. So out it went. I found myself apologizing to it.
"So sorry, plant, I don't know you."
The conclusion of the matter: while you can't always avoid associating with weeds, don't be imitating them. Looking and acting like a weed makes for a weed, no matter what your pedigree.
Oh, baby, it's cold outside. At least for this California transplant. And while I remind myself that winter was often cold in the Valley where I come from, cold appears to be relative. So, contrary to my usual habit of going on "walkabout" through the garden in the morning to check its inhabitants, both green and feathered, I am now more prone to just peer out the kitchen window and get an overview and hope for the best. It takes a metaphorical crow bar to get me out there.
And so on walkabout this morning(based on the crowbar of this blog), I tenderly brushed the broccoli leaves(they do seem stressed) and examined the emergent parts of the artichoke. I sat on a paving stone to relate to the lavender and the dianthus. Stressed or no, I am impressed with their resilience. And their grace toward me who, as keeper of the garden, should be more responsible to cover everybody out there when a freeze occurs. I have never been one to particularly coddle the garden plants, but this winter I feel there is a greater investment involved--perennials I would like to see enjoy a little longevity and express their gratitude with some edibles or such next warm season. I am comfortable with letting the garden sleep, but, let's face it, everybody needs a blanket some time!
Especially since the garden just feels so exposed. With the leaves down and the native perennials hiding under the surface of the soil, it is a more empty place. A more vulnerable place. The brave souls that remain above ground tempt the deer, who can now see into the garden, and the freeze, which can harden even the top layer of soil. Even the new bed, laid out last month, looks more like a fresh grave than anything holding promise for a future of abundance and growth.
Yet there is beauty. In the silence, in the cold, in the emptiness. Like a desert it touches the soul with a bittersweet never accomplished by bright spring profusion. Paradoxically from death comes life. From the grave comes germination. From the time of cold and silence comes refreshing, and riotous life. In so many ways in life we experience the promise of regeneration, if we would but notice. We should be able to expect it. We should know, deep down, that resurrection indeed comes.
As is often the case, when I get down to some serious weeding, I am almost belly to the ground and really into the roots, soil and mulch of the structure of the garden foundation. That's a lot of words just to say that I get dirty. I stain my clothes with the brown of compost and green of smooshed plants, grind soil under my finger nails and often even end up with smudges on my face as I must push aside the errant strand of hair or two. But I have never come up with earth on my head. At least not yet.
When the Israelites were allowed to return to their land from exile in Babylon, the few that made the trek found a major mess. Getting their feet back under themselves, so to speak, took many steps, including cleaning out the city from the rubbish, establishing an altar to begin a modicum of worship, building homes, building a temple, building a wall...and after all that, when the scroll of the law was found, they had to look inside and examine their hearts.
And they ended up with earth on their heads.
First, yes, they said "Amen" to the reading of the law, and when given to grief at what they heard there, were told that the day was Holy, and they must not grieve, but rather celebrate in joy, even to the obedience to celebrate the full seven days of Tabernacles. It seems there was a period of grace, to enjoy God's unmerited favor, choseness and love, before fully facing the inner damage of their life of rebellion against God.
Then they gathered together with earth on their heads.
Earth on our heads reminds us what we are made of. It is a humbling expression of our relationship to our Creator. But I also wonder, too, having come from the earth physically, if it is not also a grounding experience. I suppose that is the same as being humble, but I see in it a return to our place of formation--like (and I apologize for this analogy) taking an iphone back to its factory settings.
I've mentioned before how of late there have been scientific reports that bacteria in soil can increase our serotonin levels and encourage a sense of well being. I'm wondering if earth on the head is another evidence of the grace of God---for here the people come to face the truth about their hearts(deceitful above all else), and God includes in the humbling a boost of serotonin. Confession and repentance, at the end of the day, lead to release and freedom, and a clear relationship with Him, unsullied by us bearing up under the weight of our sin. But even this He brightens up for us, with Earth on our Heads.