This past weekend our neighbor plowed our garden for us, so now we must decide if we have the guts to plant another one this season. I mean guts in the literal sense, as in a small hernia that “we won’t worry about right now” according to my husband’s doctor. Gardening is hard work; it takes strong guts, so each spring we evaluate our abilities — hips, backs, guts, knees — and make the best decision. So far, we are staying in the gardening business.
Sometimes I question why we keep doing this thing that requires such great effort and so much time, a continual battle against late frosts, droughts, washouts, flea bugs, bean beetles, cucumber beetles, Japanese beetles, vine borers, tomato hornworms, deer, rabbits, the family dog, squirrels, errant grandchildren, and even neighboring cows if they get out of the fence. Once the garden is in the ground, without fail the war begins. We fight using every tool in the shed and whatever items our military budget allows.
If I lost interest, my husband would be fine with having more fishing time, but I just cannot let it go. The pull of my ancestors who grew gardens wherever they lived keeps me in this avocation. If I gave up on gardening, my grandmothers long deceased might visit me to chide my shortcoming. Those cardinals that people say are spirits of loved ones would be pecking at my windows and calling, “Okra, okra, okra.”
The memory of my daddy carrying a 5-gallon bucket of cucumbers from the garden makes me ashamed even to think of not gardening. On Sunday afternoons if we drove anywhere, my parents slowed down past neighbors’ property to look at their gardens, remarking about how tall the corn grew or, in drought, how stunted; other people did the same thing by our garden.
Even if I did not pay my ancestors loyalty by gardening, I would want a garden solely on its outcomes. Cold-storage squash from the grocery store will never taste as good as those yellow crook-necks fresh off the vine. Picked green and hauled thousands of miles, those store tomatoes can hardly be called tomatoes compared to vine-ripened, bright red Better Boys.
I am not ignorant of the future when we will no longer be physically able to lift and tote and haul, dig and hoe and rake, but staying engaged in this work gives me satisfaction that we are still alive and well, pushing on as far as we can get. I could pay good money for a yoga class, but holding a bean picking squat and a cucumber picking stretch in the garden makes me happier. I will pass on the lotus position out there lest the neighbors think I am suffering a heat stroke.
Not to sound trite like the garden plaques made in China, but I really do feel closer to God in the garden. Late in the evening when the sun is going down, sometimes I just stand and feel the goodness of God in allowing us the grace of abundance. When a summer shower revives wilted plants, I feel revived myself. At the end-of-summer harvest, the closing of the garden reminds me of the temporary nature of my time in this world.
The biblical history of humans began in a garden, a perfect one, Eden, which did not last because of human nature’s pull against God. The path of Jesus took him at the end to a garden, Gethsemane, to find the will to commit to his mission of making things right between people and God. Among those olive trees where Jesus prayed, he would have felt close to His Father — the garden effect. There he found strength and help that He needed for the greatest mission of all time on planet earth, to become a seed that went into the ground. What a harvest He will have!
We will pray over our garden as it goes into the ground this year and enjoy the goodness of it, God willing. It is a spiritual act of faith to plant those seeds, one my loved ones in heaven will applaud. Let the war begin!