“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” —Mother Teresa

The wooden garden fence grew so bloated with rain this summer—it expanded so much—it became a struggle to open and close the swinging door in the center. From the wedged shut position, I use my hip and shoulder to push back on the post to the right, while yanking forward on the top of the gate. A silent plea for assistance coupled with my shoving creates a precarious dynamic and finally, a tiny sliver of space is made and the door bursts forward, opening. Three bells, strung on twine and hanging from the gate, ring with the jolt of my force as if to say, “You did it!”

Trying to close the gate is even more complicated and I wonder if it is even necessary given how little it matters whether wildlife enters the growing space this time of year. The groundhogs are more than welcome to the plethora of monster kale gone uneaten and the long forest-green strands hanging from the tops of deeply buried chives.  

Still, leaving the space open somehow feels unsettling and so when I exit the garden, I often complete the push-pull in reverse. I do so at the risk of catching the space between my thumb and forefinger in between two pieces of tightly connected wood. I’ve done this very thing more than once, creating a purple pinch in my skin, but I’ve always been able to yank free before getting fully stuck.

Often when I’m working the door closed, a vision flashes through my head of my hand not just pinched between the boards but getting caught there, unable to be pried loose. I imagine if this happened, how I’d have to call out for help from my neighbors or my children tucked indoors, inside their rooms, deep within their own thoughts. The image of my fleshy skin trapped between two pieces of dense wood and shouting for help seems almost trivial when measured against the other flashes going through my mind. Displays of incomprehensible suffering cascading through my head space and shared collectively with all the mothers and all the other tender hearted across the globe.

How can it be?

Buckets of rain have fallen—a deluge that has come and gone from June ‘til September and continues still—drowning out a significant amount of our expected harvest. Despite the many starters we planted, only a small basket of tomatoes survived and the summer squash repeatedly perished mid-life just after the arrival of a promising peach colored bloom. These are the fruits and vegetable we’ve counted on in the past. The ones that have grown easily under the beating sun and that we have had to give away. In years past, people have laughed when we’ve offered them zucchini. This year I would have taken a few myself if someone had offered.

How can we know when a season of plenty will pass?

A time that seems too full, at another point evokes grief for what has been.

A period of excess later seems wasted.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how fully present we’ve been.

Even despite the soggy weather, by all standards our efforts to grow food these past months were still worthwhile. The peppers seemed to embrace the rain, growing plentiful, more long than wide. The cucumbers couldn’t be stopped from multiplying. Blended and combined with the few tomatoes we salvaged, they made for a tasty, chilled soup, a bit of black pepper ground on top.

Enormous beets continued to be dug up even after the leaves fell fast with the hard rain. Peeled, sliced, and slathered with butter, they were placed on a rimmed baking sheet into the oven. Afterwards we dished them onto little plates and sprinkled them with parmesan cheese.  Served to a table of friends they were gobbled up with spicy soup and slurpy noodles on the side. Kids who love beets—an achievement of its very own.

Life moves forward and spoken words drop an octave.

Whose voice is that? Who is that other man in the house?

Connection remains intact, channeled through text messages and waiting up to say goodnight. Two boys straddled on either side of growing up yet tethered in the middle by the things that have raised them, the things that have kept them young.

This. This is off limits.

Autumn presents a faux summer day, juxtaposing tank tops with drying golden leaves, that beckons us outside. A long collection of moments for stripping off layers that have been piled on with the lengthening days. Folding up the garden—an activity for which I’ve been made shy by the cold and damp days—is suddenly appealing.

At the back beds, I gaze out at the shoreline and begin pulling up metal fencing installed each season. Reveling in my warm hands, my bare shoulders, I brush off soil from the bottom edges of the metal and lean the fences beside the wooden structures, wondering what might grow better in this place where fierce winds and salt air reaches.

Which are the sturdy plants that can endure?

Is low-lying or sprawling with deep roots better?

What is it that fosters resilience in things that grow?

What is it that evokes strength in us all?

The shed where the gates go has become cluttered with all my coming and going in the summer, so I begin moving things around, sweeping and tidying. I’ve made a lot of items fit in a small space. As I’m getting gates and tarps and tools tucked away for winter, I can witness in advance how precious it will be to unpack all of it once again. To greet spring and fill pots with soil, to nestle seeds in and wait for them to grow. So much of why I move things in and then back out again is because of the hope it brings. The sense that new life always returns.

Moving from bed to bed in the fenced area with my small shovel and hand rake, I’m digging out weeds, removing dead plants and then turning over the soil. In the first bed, I discover potatoes I’d missed earlier in the season and toss them into a box with other bits of harvest—small carrots and tall stalks of celery—all of which I intend to boil in a soup pot later. I’m on my knees digging, using my whole body to rake the fertile earth, to clear away remnants from the season, all the while turning over the vestiges in my own brimming mind.

What is it that I do that matters?

Does this matter?

Like a little child, I keep digging deeper and deeper into the question.

I believe that it matters.

But why?

But why?

Every now and then I unfurl my body, come up to rest on my heels, dusting off the earth collecting on the side of the bed. It’s satisfying to look and see what I’ve accomplished—the clean soil, the fresh palette. Wiping away hair from my face and pulling off burs that have gotten stuck to my shirt, I look over at the kids in the yard where they are playing.

This group—some of them have been entwined since before they could string words together. Their love runs deep—an aquifer they drink from beneath the surface of their beings, but forget is even there. Their devotion doesn’t have to live within their consciousness because they are too young and too fortunate to know any other way. There is so much that resides beyond the regular senses to be witnessed in this scene.

This will be their yesterday, their remember when. A deep scratch on the cheek from running to catch the pass, landing in the branches. A hot fall day moving from game to game—some dreamed up themselves and given a special name. Basket Base. Later, sharing recipes for beets and carrying dishes over to the sink.

Looking at them from a distance, I can see. I can see the why and the matter that I keep turning over in my mind. I can decipher their life force—radiant and expansive with infinite futures to unfold. There is comfort found in being with them—with and among the young. Their brightness is soothing, it’s uplifting and doesn’t wait for too much worry about what is yet to come. The bounty of their being—even more than the sun—brings resounding glory to the day.

Subscribe to my mailing list!

Leave a comment (all fields required)

Comments will be approved before showing up.