The Non-Farm of Now

The most self-torturous thing I do is to take a drive through farmland.  Especially farmland with plenty of sparkling streams and stone barns from the 1700’s and farmhouses that have hosted many a human story over hundreds of years.  If there is a summer kitchen AND a functioning pump house AND a spring house, I near choke on my longing.  If there are lambs frolicking about I am undone.

There’s something so wrong in it and I don’t see a way to fix it; when a county that is bursting at the seams with banks and shopping centers keeps paving over prime farmland in the name of more of them.  I just look at that good dirt, those wide sweeps of it, acres of it, that could keep on feeding us and supporting a family, and I think acerbic thoughts and half-sentences about the businessmen who see every bit of open ground as a financial opportunity rather than the treasure that it is, just as it is.  All for ANOTHER Chipotle or a Staples or a (shudder) Walmart?

And what of the farmers whose families through the generations have been sustained by the land, and suddenly in their retirement years they decide to parcel off their inheritance to developers, to be hacked into grids of streets, peppered with homes, and never again to be a farm?  Do they consider what they received?  And how many would love to take up their yoke and earn their bread that way, but because developers can offer so much they can’t even buy five acres?

So, no farm for us, leastwise here in Lancaster County.  And no chickens, no goats; our township having some prejudice against animals that actually produce something usable.  It is nonsensical.  But so is paving over farmland, so the course must be set.  Dogs?  That you have to haul in feed for and pick up poop for, poop which isn’t fit for composting but must be hauled out with the trash?  Sure, as many as you want!  Chickens?  That feast on bugs, mosquito larvae, weeds; who break down leaves into fine compost, who turn kitchen scraps into delicious eggs, whose manure benefits the gardens?  No, none of those.

I am aware I am ranting.

Switching course…. In my non-farm of now there’s still a lot of learning and living and production happening on our little .33 acre.  This spring will see three beehives up and running (Lord willing), three elderberry bushes, three grapevines, two apple trees, a peach tree, a nectarine tree, blueberries and strawberries, rhubarb, and a whole garden full of produce and herbs.  There will be clothes on the line, jars in the canner, and herbs in the dehydrator.  There will be kids in the mud, sticks that were swords and harpoons strewn about, and slowly rusting bikes in varying degrees of disrepair.  There will be life, cultivated right in the teeth of weeds and deferred hopes and expensive farmland and zoning ordinances.

_MG_4736IMG_2592IMG_0966IMG_1283IMG_1772work4notbusy4diapers2diapers3IMG_1895 IMG_0665 IMG_0672 IMG_1933 IMG_2139 IMG_2142 IMG_2146 IMG_2147 IMG_2155 IMG_2158 _MG_4875 _MG_4888 _MG_4890 IMG_4933 IMG_4947 IMG_2305 IMG_2309 IMG_2315 IMG_0966 _MG_5001  Yes, there will be life.

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Master Gardener

This isn’t how it’s done.  You brush before the dentist appointment and clean before the maid comes and certainly you pull the weeds before the Master Gardener arrives to look things over in your garden.

But the weeds, see, they grow as deep as they grow tall; they’ve sunk right down into the earth and are anchored tight.  If I’d caught them sooner…if…

But now the stems are thick and thorned and cut my hands to ribbons when I try to pull them out.  I thought I was smart, back before I called the Master Gardener in desperation on the tan phone in the kitchen, I thought I could just saw off the visible tops of the weeds-grown-feral.  At least give the impression that jungle wasn’t taking over.

But no.

The weeds took it as a pruning, not a severance.  With renewed vigor they thrust up more stems, stalks, and canes; startling hellish exuberance bursting out of the ground and choking out the flowers.  It was worse than before.  I called the Master Gardener, resignation and pleading and wouldn’t He just come and set it to rights again?

And there He is, looking through the garden gate.  He turns and looks at me, me looking at him through the kitchen window and so ashamed.  His intensity is hard to read.  I put down the dishrag and hear the screen door slam behind me and I twist my hands together while all sorts of excuses climb my throat and fill my mouth.  I clamp my lips over the words, He and I both know what happened here.

I gesture to the weeds and my shoulders sag.  My tongue pushes the other words aside and lets out “Help”.

He smiles.  He smiles and leaps over the garden gate and comically opens the gate for me from within.  I walk in and He shows me some baby weeds that I can pull.  He rolls up his sleeves and begins to work.

I hear Him in the weeds, grunting and pulling and felling those giants.  A dull ache begins in my chest and I struggle to get full breaths.  I see his torn hands and sweat and how the weeds come out one-by-one.  I see the tall one with the black flowers, Pride-of-Life.  Pain lances through me.  It is felled beside Vainglory with it’s profuse orange blooms.  Down comes Ambition and Envy and Discontent.  They lie in a pungent heap, their wild long roots twice the length and width of the weeds themselves.  I have the oddest impression that the roots look like fingers and they even seem to reach back towards the soil in animated longing.

He sees my look.  “Yes, we’ll have to burn them.  Left there they’d replant themselves by morning.”  I turn back to my little pile of baby weeds and examine the roots of one.  Tiny fingers, faintly moving back towards the dirt.  I scream and fling the weed down.  He laughs at me.

“Yes, sin is that way, even when so young.”

We work and work, hauling wheelbarrows full of weeds to the fire pit.  His hands-I can hardly bear to look at them, cut and bloody.  Whenever I think we’re done, He shows me a weed masquerading as a flower; these He is ruthless with, yanking them out with furor.  I hold my hand over my heart where the pains throb and throb.  “We must at all costs prevent these from going to seed.  The weeds that deceive and trick are the deadliest.”

I winced as he pulled a beautiful red one down; it had looked like a kind of rose.  He saw my saddened face and came near.  He held the roots before my eyes so I could see the eerie reaching tentacles and spoke forcefully, “False-Humility.  Give it no quarter.  None.”  I nodded.  Seeing the roots breaks the spell.

We stood beside the fire pit and watched the wretched weeds crackle in the flames.  The roots curled inwards and blackened into coiled claws.  He stood beside me, so vigilant.  It was as if he suspected one would leap out of the fire and make a run for the garden.

My garden…it looked like a war zone.  Craters and holes and just a smattering of flowers that survived the weeds’ onslaught.  He followed my gaze.  “Yes, it looks empty now, but we’ll do some planting to fill it in.  The more beneficial plants that we can cover it in, the more difficult it is for weeds to find a home.”  He poked the last reaching roots into the coals, his bloody hands gleaming in the firelight.  Oh how costly has been my negligence.

“Tomorrow we’ll plant.”

——————————–

Day broke and we stood together before flats of strange and wonderful plants.  One looked so cushy and dense that I was surprised to find it hard as rock and unyielding.  “What is this called?”

“That is True-Humility.  It is a ground cover that forms a thick and armor-like covering.  It’ll protect the other plants from invading weeds and keep the soil’s moisture in.”

“And this?” I asked, fingering a spectacular flowered bush with the most outlandish purple blooms.

“That is Kindness, and it blooms continuously.”

We planted Joy, Peace-in-all-Circumstances, Love-Bearing-All, Perseverance-in-Trial, and Sorrow-for-Sin which smelled sweetly in spite of it’s sad drooping leaves.  The garden was empty no longer, feral no longer, and the Master Gardener smiled widely, as did I.

“How can I thank You?  I love it.  I’ll keep after it better now, I promise.”

His smile left his face.  He dropped his eyes to the soil and stooped down.  There, right there at our bare feet, was a new weed pushing up through the soil.  It grew before our eyes, sending out leaves and flowers and fragrance all in fast-forward.

“Behold, Arrogance.”

He bent over and yanked it out and my heart felt a twist within of pain.

“Dear one, do not promise such.  Promise only that every morning you will call Me for help.  Every morning we must come in here and search for that which destroys and get it before it takes deep root.  This is a daily job, not one that should wait, no, not even a day past trouble begins.  As strong as the Virtues are, they are not immune to being destroyed by weeds.  You must call me every morning, you must or death will reign in this garden rather than life.”

I felt the pains leave my chest and warmth spreading from my heart, outward to my limbs. He embraced me and I leaned in to Him.

“Call Me in the morning, dear one, every morning.”

“Yes, Master, yes.”