To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Understanding the pattern of the seasons and of nature is necessary for growers, gardeners, and farmers who wish to live in concord with nature, not fighting against it or forcing it to suit our desires. This is an act of dying to self, because it means that we accept the time to die, the time to weep, the time to mourn, as connected with hte time to be born, the time to laugh, the time to dance. Every tiny seedling we plant in the spring will grow, and flourish, and bear fruit, and wither, and die – or, perhaps, be killed by a frost, or eaten by a deer.
Months ago I planted, and mulched, and staked, and my gardens were beautiful. I have harvested hundreds of pounds of food from these small plots of soil, and this food has connected me with those others who have eaten it, a community of families all eating out of the same soil, even if we rarely or never see one another. “Foodways” are the ways in which practices of producing, exchanging, and eating food connect us with one another, and with economy, culture, and history. Human beings meet in what we eat: a visceral communal contact in an age of isolation and fragmentation. The act of devouring connnects us with what was devoured too, so that we depend on the labor, the bodily functions, even the life-blood that went into producing what we eat. If we eat food producd by underpaid laborers, we are eating of their sorrow. If we eat the meat of animals who were kept confined in darkness, with no room to move, we eat their misery. This sorrow and misery exist because we are willing to devour it.
Nothing that comes out of my gardens was born out of the labor of slaves or oppressed migrants. Nothing has been sprayed with poisons that harm the eco-system. I have tried as much as possible to make my labor be a labor of love, not of hate – that time in the garden be a time of peace, not of war. But even so, this is not the enchanted garden that lives forever. It was a difficult year. First came the killing frost, during the one brief weekend when I was out of town and couldn’t mulch everything to protect it. Then the slugs. Then the deer. Then the cucumber and squash beetles, phalanxes of them, earlier and more teeming than I’d ever seen: the climate is shifting, and this changes everything for a grower. Then came the raccoons, who prefer my sweet corn to the GM crops of my neighbor. Then came the drought, and I was too busy watering to weed, so when the rains finally came, the weeds went wild.
My gardens are not beautiful now. I hate winter, but I’m almost looking forward to just letting everything wither in the cold, so I can start over. There is a time for everything.
Eco gardening is not for the slothful, nor for those who want absolute control, or are easily discouraged. Since I am all of the above, it is a frustrating business for me, but I love it anyway. I have to face not only the demands of nature, but the demands of nature un-natured, nature at bay, nature pinched and squeezed by technological forces, nature in flight, invasive species, chemical drift. I ahve to face my own stupidity, too: why did I not mulch those potatoes? Why did I not plant more cucumbers, or a fourth bed of beets? Why didn’t I move my garlic in earlier?
There is a time for everything, and it can’t always be the time of our choosing. I can’t make the earth spin backwards, make it an earlier September, make my hair stop turning grey, undo the stupid things I’ve done, enjoy the past more, eat more tomatoes ripe from the vine, not have sold my horses, not have gone to that college, not have made that rash marriage.
What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?
I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.
He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.
I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.
And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.
Eat your ripe tomatoes while you can. The poet of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there may be some larger pattern to it all, beyond what we can imagine. But for now, eat the fruits of your harvest. Winter is coming.