“A garden of course, is not just nature. It is nature, plus culture”.
It’s a fallow season. Otherwise known as Covid-19 summer. It’s an in between, before all the other things. What the other things are, is yet to be determined. There is something good and natural in a fallow season, though in a world addicted to immediate gratification we are unused to waiting. A fallow season may try the patience. Still, it might be the very medicine that nature itself recommended.
Fallow seasons should be no surprise. They are part of the natural cycles of life and chance. So, for some it’s a Covid-19 summer. For others, it’s growing season. Take your pick.
Go to the store and try to find yeast. It’s in short supply even for commercial bakeries. People are opting for sourdough recipes on YouTube, looking to solutions that can be MacGyver’ed at home when goods you are accustomed to getting are suddenly unavailable. And that is a good thing, because people seem to have forgotten that the basics, like baking bread and growing a garden, just make us FEEL better, even when we cannot articulate why. We have tapped into something important. Creating things is natural, and very healthy.
I was reminded of this viewing a shot of a “victory garden”, an old idea used to stretch the food supply during war times. It was a picture of a bomb crater, repurposed into a garden. That must have been some kind of aerial view for the enemy. It’s also what creative people do with a hole, they fill it up with good things. It’s the truths gardeners have long known. You take your world, cultivate what is good, and prune out what is bad. Eventually with such thinking, you get a crop out of what looked like disorder.
And so I was gladdened to see my daughter call in for some advice about how to make her own garden beds to grow some vegetables now that the sun is out and the weather cooperating somewhat. There is great hope in growing things. She seems enthusiastic, even giddy. And the older generation, who knows something of the seasons, is happy to lend advice.
I looked out across our back fence. Across the field, the old Italian we call the General, is getting ready to do battle with nature. He is not naive. This year he means business. He is looking for food as well as recreation and fitness. Therefore he is getting serious, and ready to do battle. He is putting up a deer fence. Sorry deer. You can eat only what you can forage through the fence this year. The odds have upped the ante. Wise people are getting serious about the end game of all this, which is a harvest. They know it involves some struggle, and so they dig in, and take the long view.
Even in the face of a struggle, there is something gratuitous about nature. It takes with one hand but gives back with the other, to those willing to be patient. The abundance of nature involves sweat and imagination and partnering with the unknown in ways that look a bit like faith to me. And faith is good, as is its cousin, hope. We could all use a bit of hope right now, looking ahead.
Fallow seasons are not all about weather. There are capricious cycles to the world. I can recall a summer when I was a boy, where Saskatchewan was hit with a blight of army worms. You likely have never heard of them. They came and went. Still, at the time it was very dramatic. To put it in perspective, you would see farmers with a bumper crop driving expansive luxury cars, with ATV’s and other toys in the yard. Wheat was dear but gas was cheap. Farmers would dig ditches around their fields, and fill them with gasoline, as a barrier against the enemy. I can also remember the worms, how they would stand up on a stalk of wheat threatening you, arching up as if to attack. The men in overalls would stand around the edge of the fields, scratching their heads and murmering gravely. It was all there was to talk about, until it passed, that blight of worms. And now it is long history. A lot of crops have fallen in between - a fact that might offer us some perspective.
There are lessons to be learned here. This crisis awakens human possibilities that have long been dormant. Maybe this time of introspection is also a thing of the soul, and about basic stewardship. It’s empowering to take life in hand and see what you can do with it. It’s the opposite of what our distracted and over-medicated society has generally done. I can recall watching a creative friend spiral downwards into cycles of depression brought on by drugs his doctor assured him would help. Instead they just masked reality and created a parallel problem. Maybe his doctor should have handed him a rake and a hoe, or a pen and paper, a paintbrush and told him to create something new. It might have been the medicine needed.
Modern times seem to have truncated our imaginations into two spheres. What we do for money, and what we do for fun. There is a vast untapped territory in between. Friedrich Nietzsche famously stated that those who stare into the abyss become the abyss. And yet I think he was only half right. Those who stare into an uncultivated field, become farmers who take something bad and make it over into something good. So what do you do in a fallow season? You do what creative people always have done. Create anyway. Plant a garden, and wait for it to grow.
“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” Galatians 6:9