Light wakes us – there’s the sun climbing the mountains’ rim, spilling across the valley, finding our faces. It is July, between the hay and harvest, a time at arm’s length from all other time…
It is the time to set aside all vigil, good or ill, to loosen the fixed gaze of our attention as dandelions let seedlings to the wind. Wake with the light. Get up and go about the day and watch its surfaces that brighten with the sun. ~Kerry Hardie from “Sleep in Summer”
Saying good-bye to July is admitting summer is already half-baked and so are we– we are still doughy and not nearly done enough.
The rush to autumn is breathless. We want to hold on tight to our longish days and our sweaty nights for just a little while longer…
Please, oh please grant us light and steady us for the task of getting ready and letting go.
As a child, my father helped me dig a square of dense red clay, mark off rows where zinnias would grow, and radishes and tender spinach leaves. He’d stand with me each night as daylight drained away to talk about our crops leaning on his hoe as I would practice leaning so on mine.
Years later now in my big garden plot, the soggy remnant stems of plants flopped over several months ago, the ground is cold, the berries gone, the stakes like hungry sentries stand guarding empty graves. And still I hear his voice asking what I think would best be planted once the weather warms. ~Margaret Mullins “Lonely Harvest” from Family Constellations
We were both raised by serious vegetable gardeners; as kids we helped plant and weed and harvest from large garden plots because that was how families fed themselves fresh produce rather than from a can. Even frozen vegetables were not plentiful in the stores and too expensive, so grow-it-yourself was a necessity before it became a trending hashtag.
Now, with his parents’ past guidance in his ears, my husband works the soil to prepare it yet again for yielding: the over-wintered shells of squash, the limp left-over bean vines, the stumps of corn stalks. Dark composted manure is mixed in, rototilled and fluffed, grass and weed roots pulled out. Then he carefully marks off the grid of rows and the decisions made about what goes where this year; what did well in the past? what didn’t germinate and what didn’t produce?
Then he lays the seeds and pats the soil down over the top and we wait.
Our garden has been yielding now for two weeks – plentiful greens and radishes and now fresh strawberries with peas coming on strong. It will be a resource for our church community and our winter meals as well as a fresh bounty for our table over the next three months.
Planting a garden is our very tangible expression of hope in the future when the present feels overwhelmingly gloomy with despair. Yet a garden doesn’t happen without our planning, work and care making that first spinach leaf, that first pea pod, that first strawberry taste even sweeter.
“All that is very well,” answered Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden.” ~Voltaire’s last line from Candide
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today; And give us not to think so far away As the uncertain harvest; keep us here All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white, Like nothing else by day, like ghosts at night; And make us happy in the happy bees, The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird That suddenly above the bees is heard, The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill, And off a blossom in mid-air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love, The which it is reserved for God above To sanctify to what far ends He will, But which it only needs that we fulfil. ~Robert Frost“A Prayer in Spring”
We are wisely warned what may happen in the next few months: a second or third wave of virus, more disruption, more closures, more deaths. There seems no end in sight on this long COVID road. Or perhaps the end is prematurely near for too many.
Thinking so far away to uncertain times ahead, we need to remember the future has always been uncertain; we just aren’t reminded so starkly. Instead we are reminded to dwell in the present here and now, appreciating these quiet moments at home for what they may bestow.
The earth is springing even while our hearts are weary of distancing and isolation. Each breath is filled with new fragrance, the greens startlingly verdant, each blossom heavy with promise.
There is reassurance in this renewal we witness yet again.
This, now, is love springing. This is His love, reminding us He has not abandoned us. This is love and nothing else can be as certain as that.
You come to fetch me from my work to-night When supper’s on the table, and we’ll see If I can leave off burying the white Soft petals fallen from the apple tree. (Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite, Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea); And go along with you ere you lose sight Of what you came for and become like me, Slave to a springtime passion for the earth. How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed On through the watching for that early birth When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed, The sturdy seedling with arched body comes Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs. ~Robert Frost “Putting in the Seed”
The garden is ready; the soil turned over, the compost mixed in, rototilled to a fine crown. Next will come the laying out of strings, the trench hoed straight, the seed laid one by one in the furrow and covered gently with a light touch.
Then the sun warms and showers moisten, the seeds awaken to push upward, bold and abrupt, wanting to know the touch of sky and air to leaf and leap and bloom and bear.
The moon drops one or two feathers into the field.
The dark wheat listens.
There they are, the moon’s young, trying
I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe
The wheat leans back toward its own darkness,
And I lean toward mine.
~James Wright, from “Beginning” from Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose.
And the light shone in darkness and Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled About the centre of the silent Word. ~T.S. Eliot from “Ash Wednesday”
In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls… I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope. ~T.S. Eliot from “East Coker”
As we spend time with our young grandchildren, learning what it means to be a grandparent, we watch them discover the many joys and unending sorrows of this world. We must remember to remind them: there is light beyond the darkness, there is peace amid the chaos, there is a smile behind the tears, there is stillness within the noisiness, there is grace and mercy as old gives way to new.
…it has seemed good to our people to join together in praising the Creator and Preserver, who has brought us by a way that we did not know to the end of another year: for the blessings that have been our common lot — for all the creature comforts: the yield of the soil that has fed us and the richer yield from labor of every kind that has sustained our lives — and for all those things, as dear as breath to the body, that nourish and strengthen our spirit to do the great work still before us: for the brotherly word and act; for honor held above price; for steadfast courage and zeal in the long, long search after truth; for liberty and for justice freely granted by each to his fellow and so as freely enjoyed; and for the crowning glory and mercy of peace upon our land; — that we may humbly take heart of these blessings as we gather once again with solemn and festive rites to keep our Harvest Home. ~Connecticut Governor Wilbur Cross — 1936 Thanksgiving Proclamation
We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder, from “Our Town”
These words written over 80 years ago still ring true. Then a country crushed under the Great Depression, now a country staggering under a Great Depression of the spirit~ ever more connected electronically, yet more isolated from family, friends, faith, more economically secure, yet emotionally bankrupt.
May we humbly take heart in the midst of creature comforts we barely acknowledge; may we always be conscious of our treasures and in our abundance, take care of others in need, just as God, in His everlasting recognition of our perpetual need of Him, cares for us, even though, even when, even because, we don’t believe.
I work the soil of this life, this farm, this faith to find what yearns to grow, to bloom, to fruit and be harvested to share with others.
With deep gratitude to those of you who visit here and let me know it makes a difference in your day!
In joint Thanksgiving to our Creator and Preserver, right along with you,
Season of ripening fruit and seeds, depart; There is no harvest ripening in the heart.
Bring the frost that strikes the dahlias down In one cruel night. The blackened buds, the brown And wilted heads, the crippled stems, we crave – All beauty withered, crumbling to the grave. Wind, strip off the leaves, and harden, ground, Till in your frozen crust no break is found.
Then only, when man’s inner world is one With barren earth and branches bared to bone, Then only can the heart begin to know The seeds of hope asleep beneath the snow; Then only can the chastened spirit tap The hidden faith still pulsing in the sap. ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh“No Harvest Ripening“
Things on the farm are slowing down and withering; it is the natural way of October for all to fall to the ground to become soil again.
I know it doesn’t mean the end – there is still the vital seed and sap that lies dormant, waiting for the right moment to re-emerge, resurrect and live again.
I know this too about myself. Yet the dying-time-of-year doesn’t get easier as I age. It only becomes more real-time and vivid. The colors fade, the skin wrinkles and dries, the fruit falls unused and softening.
Our beauty, so evident only a short time ago, thrives inward, ready to rise again when called.
A dim veil hangs over the landscape and flood, And the hills are all mellowed in haze, While Fall, creeping on like a monk ‘neath his hood, Plucks the thick-rustling wealth of the maize.
And long for this manna that springs from the sod Shall we gratefully give Him the praise, The source of all bounty, our Father and God, Who sent us from heaven the maize! ~William Fosdick “The Maize”
The autumn garden can feel like a treasure hunt as we pull out and sort through the dead and dying vines and stalks: the giant zucchini growing undetected under leaves, the cucumber hanging from a cornstalk, the fat hollowed beans ready to burst with seed.
Yet the greatest Easter Egg of all hidden away in husk and cornsilk is this glass gem corn, a maize variety Dan planted in the spring. We’ve never experimented with it before and it grew listlessly, almost half-hearted, with stunted stalks and few apparent ears, pitiful next to our robust sweet corn crop.
It fooled us; this corn is pure gold in a kaleidoscope display. The ears are meager but glowing like stained glass, colorful quilt patches on a stalk. We gathered it up for “Show and Tell” at church last night, showing our Chapel friends what God can do with His unending palette of heaven-sent color and imagination. People come in all colors too, thanks to His artistry, but not nearly so varied as this kernels of colored glass.
This far north, the harvest happens late. Rooks go clattering over the sycamores whose shadows yawn after them, down to the river. Uncut wheat staggers under its own weight.
Summer is leaving too, exchanging its gold for brass and copper. It is not so strange to feel nostalgia for the present; already this September evening is as old
as a photograph of itself. The light, the shadows on the field, are sepia, as if this were some other evening in September, some other harvest that went ungathered years ago. ~Dorothy Lawrenson “September” from Painted, spoken, 22
September/remember naturally go together in every rhyming autumnal poem and song.
For me, the nostalgia of this season is for the look and feel of the landscape as it browns out with aging – gilded, burnt and rusted, almost glistening in its dying.
I gather up and store these images, like sheaves of wheat stacked in the field. I’ll need them again someday, when I’m hungry, starving for the memory of what once was, and, when the light is just right, how it could be again someday.
Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks rise Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?
I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes, Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour; And, éyes, heárt, what looks, what lips yet gave you a Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?
And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder Majestic—as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet!— These things, these things were here and but the beholder Wanting; which two when they once meet, The heart rears wings bold and bolder And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Hurrahing for Harvest”
My summer of “no doctoring” finishes today. I return to part-time clinical work tomorrow; a new beginning is on the way.
I am readying myself.
I consider how it will feel to put the stethoscope back on and return to spending most of my daylight hours in window-less rooms. Several months of freedom to wander and wonder will be tough to give up.
However, when I meet my first patient of the day, I’m “all in.” Someone is needing my help more than I need time off. The wind has shifted, it is time to migrate back to the work I was called to do over forty years ago.
Still I will look for beautiful things where I can find them, knowing that even though they don’t last, they will always be well worth the weeping.