This withering swiss chard is the sole survivor of TWO winter gardens planted and drenched in delirious hope. Cheerfully chatting with my children and house mates two months ago as we sowed hundreds of collard, kale, cabbage, broccoli, spinach and cauliflower seeds, we recollected the three failed plantings of the spring and summer and spoke words of life over this new season. We even rain danced down the rows. OK- not really. But I considered it. Within two weeks, thanks to a continuing drought combined with my broken irrigation system and three escapee chickens who determinedly scratched up all the freshly sown soil, we were back to scorched clay and dust. And grasshoppers.
Considering my failed ambition of multiple plantings this summer, a wise person would have stopped banging their head against the wall. (It’s embarrassing to admit this- but I planted over 150 tomato plants. I couldn’t take no for an answer. Something had to grow!!) By this time, my hammered head was so numb I incoherently continued on. The weather continued to stay warm, the feed store had a few hundred left over seedlings they needed to purge, I had an empty garden and enough deranged hope that maybe this time it would work. Besides- it had to start raining soon. Right?
This time it wasn’t the chickens, grasshoppers or lack of water (I faithfully hauled heavy five gallon buckets until we fixed the system). It was my adoring fowl followers, our geese and turkeys. They stayed just a few steps behind and pulled out the baby transplants as soon as I turned to plant the next one. They weren’t eating the seedlings, just checking out my handiwork. They also yanked out fifty freshly planted strawberry plugs. Every time I walked through the garden I found plants spewed all over, along with pulled out identification tags. After a few days of replanting and reposting the tags, everything was dead and I had no idea what had been where.
Not to be a quitter, I researched cover crops and planted one last time. Why I wasted the time and money, I have no idea. But I did, and now my garden is covered in dried up seed that never had a chance of life.
Ironically, within a month of moving here and finalizing our house plans, the rain started. It poured and poured till last fall was dubbed the ” Hundred Year Flood”. We lost five months on our house construction, but come May we hastily moved in and I immediately turned my attention to the orchard and garden- just in time for the beginning of a hot, record breaking summer and fall that are now referred to as the “Hundred Year Drought.” Today we are finally tapping into wisdom and building a fence. It’s the first fruitful thing (I guess we have yet to know for sure) I’ve done in a long time. At least the fence can’t wither up and die. This fence and tons (literally) of mulch rows are the only concrete evidence I have to show for almost a year of hard labor- many of those months in record breaking heat. That’s especially challenging for an acclimating Alaskan girl.
I’ve tried to cheer myself up by saying, “Next year will be better- I’m more prepared and learned some important lessons”. But after a few dozen chantings, the mantra has grown stale. This season has motivated me to apply for job openings and even reconsider grad school. Maybe something else would be a wiser use of my time and energy. I’m also adjusting to single parenting and running this little farm without my partner. The agreed upon 4-5 months of separation so he could direct a job in bush Alaska have now turned into 16+ months. I’m finding it extra challenging due to the fact we have only lived here one year and I’m still in the beginnings of building friendships. I miss my career and a hometown full of lifelong friends I could call upon anytime.
2016 has included emotional and spiritual equivalents to drought, grasshoppers, broken irrigation and well-meaning but destructive feathered friends. This may explain the strange camaraderie that swept over me as I gazed upon that lonely, struggling swiss chard. Life parallels farming in so many ways, I think this is part of my fascination with agriculture. First Corinthians chapter 15 has an interesting explanation of the natural coming before the spiritual; God’s built-in analogies to explain His Kingdom. The fact God started this whole thing in a garden resonates somewhere deep in my soul. Despite the challenges and confusion, I know I am where I am supposed to be- in His Garden, working alongside my Father and learning to cultivate life. Right now I feel a bit weathered and chewed up, but I know the Gardener will finish what He started and I will be a soul survivor.
Sadly, in the time it took me to process and write this story, that single swiss chard withered up and died. Not exactly the clever, wise wrap up I was aiming for. But life often composes different storylines then we were hoping for, and rarely do we hop from one clever, wrapped up chapter to the next. Following God is an adventure nonetheless, and I will take the painful, messy, tiring and disappointing version as long as I know He is with me. I don’t know how this saga will end, but I am encouraged as I look to Jesus and choose a spirit of thankfulness. Today I am thankful that God is a MUCH better gardener than I am:)