When the lists are longer than the number of days, and more chores roll out as they present themselves, there is a good chance that it’s not all going to get done. I sank my shovel into the edge of my fourteen by twenty-two foot garden plot and stood quietly to watch the combines, mechanical and rhythmic, in the vast cornfield a stone’s throw from our property. As the farmer stretched his arms to the cab of his tractor, his midday yawn was nearly audible from across the road. I wondered if he loves the time he spends in the field, if he looks forward to this fall season and the long hours of chasing the Northern Illinois sunsets. By nightfall, acres upon acres had been harvested.
The chickens have been helpful. They are doing their part to prepare my modest plot for winter. There has been so much to learn this first year at the farm. By the time the first lettuce seeds were in the ground, fescue had overtaken the garden’s border. I would work on weeding that soon, I often thought. Today, several frosts into fall, I have finally dug out, at least for now, the last of that invasive grass.
Our pumpkin patch was surprisingly (at least to me) fruitful, and by early July, the neighboring watermelon vines had been nearly overtaken by the vigorous Jack Frost crop. When a man from Wasco nursery came to plant the apple trees that were a birthday gift from my brother and sister, he showed me how to loosen the vines from the ground at the point of the stems. The pumpkins ripened in their sunny splendor, and as the cool air crept in, we carved our glorious crop into Halloween Jack-o-Lanterns.
I could have stayed in the shower forever; I dreaded having to stuff myself into my jeans for the first time this early fall. I shouldn’t have eaten all that Halloween candy…or those donuts…or an extra piece of cake for each November birthday. When I turn around and look back at the days, though, there are no real regrets. If it all ends today, the storms will not scare me, and I will face my Maker with my eyes open.
I can reflect on where I have been, which is almost everywhere but nearly nowhere at the same time, in the same heartbeat. The aftermath of the rotting Jack-o-Lantern smiled up at me from where it had been discarded at the top of the compost pile. In a flash of indefinable emotion, perhaps part guilt, part sadness, and part feelings of what could have been, I thought about how the once robust pumpkin that I had grown from a tiny seed had neared the end of its purpose here. At least, that is, for this season. My pumpkin, though, will be here at the farm, nourishing future fairy roses, sage, blueberry bushes, and more pumpkins, for the rest of our days.
We have nearly decided against renewing our license to foster. We have been at the state’s definition of capacity for a while now, and it would be many years before we will have an opening for another child. Even then, would we still have the strength and energy to begin again?
Lois was a curiosity to me, as a twenty-four-year old young mom just learning to embrace gardening. She lived alone, two houses down from us. My best guess would have put her in her early seventies. There were no flowers or berry bushes in her yard; no tomatoes, rosemary, or garlic plantings were anywhere to be seen. Lois, though, gardened every day, sunrise to sunset. She sat in the grass with a five gallon bucket and a weeding tool, painstaking picking what only she could identify as weeds in her lush, green lawn.
I didn’t understand Lois at the time. Didn’t she like flowers? Now, though, I think I do understand. She had a purpose, in each given moment. And, isn’t that what we all, deep inside our souls, need? Our job is not to assign value or to define purpose for that of another, but rather to embrace our own.
I watched my little son as he carefully navigated his way down the farmhouse stairs, bringing one foot to meet the other as he slowly moved to the next step. Developmental checklists from my days of evaluating babies flashed through my mind: alternates feet up and down stairs? Emerging. He is on his way. He moves with purpose. I, though, have begun to slow down. It is easier on my hips now if I don’t alternate feet on the steps anymore. As the simplicity in my day is what I yearn for, I wonder if I will become like a young child again, where wonder is at the forefront and where I am just content to sit in the grass, without even being concerned with picking weeds. Sometimes I wish we could just skip all the stuff in between.
The season has crept up on me. I know I will find plenty do do during the barren days of winter. But what about the greater purpose? When the seeds are planted, when the plants take root, grow, and produce, where does this leave me? Every time one of the children leaves the farm, for a season or for longer, I find solace in knowing, in hoping, that as they work to uncover their own purpose, they will, one day, come home.
Each given day is a moment and a lifetime. I don’t know what’s around the corner. I don’t think I have to know, and I am pretty sure I like it that way. Because right here, what is right in front of me is enough.