LOCAL VIEW: LONELY HARVEST SONNET

There is nothing quite so discouraging as to attempt to share a joy, and to fail. When a comedian tells a joke before a crowd and no one laughs; it is called “bombing out”. Or when a preacher attempts to inspire but repulses, it is said he “empties the place.” Or, for another example, when you work up the nerve to ask a pretty girl to dance, and she says, “No thank you”, it is said you “crash and burn”. Or, when you try to cheer a child by taking them for a brisk, winter hike, and they respond…

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In my case the joy I failed to share was the joy of growing my own food. My children never appreciated my gardens. The work struck them as unnecessary. Fine. I decided they could be that way, and this year ran my garden without even hinting I could use any help. And now I have a harvest so big I can’t possibly eat it all, and, with some crops, can’t even gather it all. I have created a sort of quandary, which resulted in the bitterness of this sonnet:

I wish they were as old-fashioned as I.
Though frost cuts, I heap a heating harvest,
Yet I no longer even bother to try
To get them to sweat, though reaping’s blessed.

Today I hauled a hundred pounds of squash
To my larder. For me that’s four hundred
Meals. But I know they’d, with piggy squeals, quash
All joy from my harvest, whining they’ve bled
And are wounded, because fall’s frost cuts.

Those who don’t plant don’t know why they’re fed.
Their fine complaints are but signs they lack guts.
They think they make sense, while making me groan
For no man likes to reap harvests alone.

Now forgive me for a bit, as I devolve into bitterness, for it follows to an interesting conclusion.

Every year my garden is an experiment. Or, to be more accurate, around a hundred experiments. And this year one experiment involved not facing a lot of blasted Calvin-and-Hobbes grousing from family members, who sarcastically state they have better things to do than plant and weed, and fight bugs and beetles and rabbits and squirrels and fungus and rot and drought and flood, and then to have to harvest and store and pickle and can and salt, and all for what? To eat what they could eat without so much work? “Man does not live on bread alone” they will tell me, (though they have never seriously fasted, nor seen how life looks without bread).

When my kids were younger it was worth attempting to instill some awareness in them of where food came from, and I was willing to endure their Calvin-and-Hobbes cynicism, about gardening being worth it. But last summer I decided they were all grown up and I didn’t need to suffer a lot of crap for growing food. Therefore I decided to skip the bother of attempting to have a happy family all happily singing together as they happily worked together growing happy food. Instead I decided to simply see what I could do all on my own, as a 66-year-old grandfather.

Mind you, I didn’t measure the success of my garden with profit. Profit is a separate matter. I pay the huge taxes and utility bills by running a Farm-childcare with my wife. To some degree, gardening is part of the Farm-childcare, because I take the little ones out to see what we grow. But the vegetables themselves make me no money, (unless the fact so many small kids abscond with stuff from my garden can be seen as a “promotion” that attracts customers). (And I must confess scores of parents have told me they can’t get their children the slightest bit interested in vegetables at home, and are amazed they munch so much at my Childcare.)

Basically I was doing my gardening after paying my bills and fulfilling my other worldly responsibilities. But I was doing it without whining that anyone should help me. It was an experiment to see what I could do if I alone was responsible for the plowing, the planting, the weeding, and I alone fought bugs and beetles and rabbits and squirrels and fungus and rot and drought and flood, and then had to harvest and store and pickle and can and salt all by myself. And the results of my experiment were?

First, I was far happier in my garden, without the abuses a pack of griping “Calvins” can dole out. (I think my kids were happier as well, because, when push comes to shove, I can gripe as good as I get.)

Second, sometimes it is good to abandon the discussion. Some think the way to get carrots is through applying for food stamps. I have found it easier to grow them. This difference-in-viewpoints can lead to quite a discussion, but the discussion grows no carrots. Last summer I skipped the discussion and simply grew the food, as an experiment.

I grew an amazing amount. More than I can possibly eat. This creates a new problem.

For example, from a sixty foot row, I grew over a hundred pounds of potatoes. From another sixty foot row, I grew over a hundred pounds of butternut squash.

Why is this a problem? Well, consider how much I can possibly eat, as mashed white and orange blobs on the side of my dinner plate. A quarter pound of potatoes and a quarter pound of squash every meal? Even so, eating until squash and potatoes came out my ears, I’d have 400 meals worth of food, at which point I’d be starting to harvest next year’s crop. They’d be no end to all the eating.

And that is just two crops. It doesn’t take into account the peas and beans and broccoli and cauliflower and corn and cabbage and cucumbers and turnips and carrots and beets and sunflower seeds. It’s a surplus, but a surplus is a problem, because the food must be properly preserved. It must be lugged to cellars or attics or frozen or pickled or canned, and one basically does that at night after working all day. If I had a pig she could eat the excess, but this year I only have a heaping compost pile of spoiled vegetables that attracts wildlife and vermin……. And also free advice.

People are actually very helpful, when it comes to sitting back on their haunches and telling me I should open a booth at the local farmer’s market and and spend my Saturdays selling my surplus. I bite my tongue. After all, the rules of this year’s experiment are that I don’t ask for help, and do all myself. And my Saturdays are already full of other tasks from dawn to dusk.

In some ways I remind myself of the “little red hen”, only I don’t ask for help. I don’t ask, “Who will help me grow my grain”? That way I don’t have to listen to multiple Calvins complaining.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9b/The_Little_Red_Hen_cover.jpg

Of course at the end of the old tale the little red hen facetiously asks, “Who will help me eat my bread” and a crowd of lazy friends shows up and, in the original version, the hen gets to be nasty and selfish, and triumphantly states they don’t get any bread because they did no work. (There were no food stamps back then.)

Now we are more modern, and teach our children the fable of “The Little Red Socialist”. In the modern version you are “entitled”. You deserve a trophy even if you are a loser. You have no food because you are the victim, and the fellow who worked has food because he exploited you. Even if he didn’t, his great-great-great-great grandparents exploited your great-great-great-grandparents, and he owes you retribution payments. You never have to work; all you need to do is complain.

In other words, what I stand to gain from growing a surplus of food is a whole lot of complaining. That is my harvest. This seems like a bad deal to me, and is one reason I decided to leave others out of the equation. After removing the complaining one discovers there is satisfaction in producing a surplus, even if it seems sad so much winds up in the compost pile. There is a joy in the battle, in the weeks of toil, when at long last you look at the pile of potatoes or heap of squash.

But then, as one stands midst bounty, one discovers “no man is an island.” When one has a bounty one wants to share it. In fact the true harvest is not the physical food, but the ability to have a bountiful, generous heart.

The true harvest isn’t the blasted beans.
It’s not corn kernels that splash bright yellow
In silver bowls, sliced from cobs. Harvest means
More than that. Pity the farming fellow
And understand joy means more than mere squash.
The “three sisters” make a sweet succotash
But it must be shared. I don’t jest nor josh
When I say misers don’t merely clutch cold cash
But can hoard cold kale and rutabagas
Just as well, in bleak winter warehouses.
But true harvest laughs at winter’s cruel claws
In kitchens that warm. A farmer’s spouse is
Crucial to harvest, nor is it rude
To say food’s for life; not life for food.

This brings me back to the beginning, and to wanting to share something that others don’t appreciate. Again we see the comedian before the sullen crowd of “Calvins” that refuses to laugh. He has a bounty, and a generous heart, but his gift is like pearls to swine, and that which buoys him, to Calvins, has the buoyancy of a lead balloon.

Comedians tend to head back to the drawing board after “bombing out”, and either to look for new jokes, or work on their delivery of the old ones. However sometimes the failure has little to do with the comedian, and a great deal to do with the audience.

What the audience needs is a so-called “attitude adjustment”. Hopefully this is not supplied in the manner the sheriff does in “Smokey and the Bandit”, but sometimes people do need to lose in order to appreciate what they once had. There’s nothing like a famine to make a person appreciate a slice of bread, and nothing like a parched desert to make a man appreciate a sip of water. In like manner, there is nothing like life devoid of appreciation to make one appreciate appreciation.

But think for a moment: What exactly is appreciation? Is it something you can gather in a sack or cork in a bottle? Can it be touched? Or does it touch you?

One thing about the “entitlement” mentality is that it expects a harvest without any appreciation of the work involved. There is no thanksgiving. There is no swelling of the heart, which is the greatest harvest of all.

One thing I get out of all the sweat and toil involved in a garden is that I do appreciate the results, whether they be a bumper crop or merely skimpy gleanings. And I think I appreciate the appreciation more than the actual food. There is great sweetness to be found when things don’t come easy.

This brings me back to pondering the difference between those who appreciate and those who do not. It seems odd to me that those who feel “entitaled” receive so much, and appreciate so little, while the farming fellow has to work so hard and so long under a hot sun, and appreciates so much. It seems it should be the other way around: The fellow who works hard should be griping, while the person who receives much should be thankful, but, due to a bizarre twist of human nature, the opposite occurs. Those who receive welfare without doing a lick of work are “spoiled.” But those who “pay the dues” learn how to “sing the blues”, and become “gifted”, which is the greatest harvest of all.

I think that was the result of the past summer’s experiment. I redefined the word “harvest” from a purely physical measurement to a more spiritual measure. And perhaps my understanding of Jesus became slightly less dimwitted, when I read he told his disciples,

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field…”

And also,

“Do you not say, ’There are still four months until the harvest’? I tell you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ripe for harvest.”

Obviously there is a different definition of “harvest” involved. It has occurred to me that the difference is the difference between the griping, entitled, complaining “Calvin” who furthers misery by appreciating nothing, and that same Calvin who is “converted” through an “attitude adjustment”, and, in the exact same situation, furthers gladness by appreciating absolutely everything.

I need to think more deeply about this. I’ll likely have time, as I spend winter eating lots of potatoes and squash, awaiting next spring, assessing the results of my last experiment and plotting the next experiment I’ll conduct, if God grants me another year.

My initial assessment of the past summer’s experiment is that, although there is a great relief to be gained from avoiding complaining Calvins, it is also somewhat sterile. It is reminiscent of the prophet Eli, who knew the joy of Truth but couldn’t convert his own sons. A lonely harvest lacks a fundamental joy that makes a harvest spiritual.

Therefore, as I sketch next April this October, I am musing about the possibility of not working alone in my garden. I am entertaining the idea of enlisting “converted Calvins.” It seems a lovely idea, as a hypothesis, though I confess I haven’t the slightest idea where to begin.

3 thoughts on “LOCAL VIEW: LONELY HARVEST SONNET

  1. Why the bountiful harvest … what sort of deal did u cut with the devil to have yields like the potatoes & squash??

    • With the potatoes, I was helped by cool temperatures and generous rains. Also I added a lot of wood-ashes to the soil and topped it with goat manure when I planted, and added a further topping of manure when I “hilled” the potatoes. I was a bit afraid I’d overdo the nitrogen, and get huge plants and tiny potatoes, but things worked out well.

      One thing I did was be zealous in my battle with Colorado Potato Beetles. I was helped by an unusual child at my Childcare, who had a strange gift in this regard. Most kids are grossed out by bugs in general, and especially by squishing them, but this child would beg for the chance to go out in my garden and go down the row, carefully searching each leaf for the yellow eggs, the orange larvae, and the zebra-striped beetles. For some reason he got great satisfaction from this war, which is part of “organic” gardening.

      The success of the butternut aquash was because that is on heck of a a tough species. The cool and wet weather was not ideal for squash, and in fact the manure, that squash usually thrive on, fed some white mold that attacked the plants as they emerged from the earth, and completely killed off my buttercup squash, many acorn squash, and my Giant Atlantic Pumpkins. Also I was less careful to hunt down insects such as vine-borers and squash bugs. But butternut squash has this cool ability to send down roots at leaf-joints along the vine, and can survive even when mold and vine-borers completely destroy the vine where it originally emerged from the earth. When I had time I heaped earth and sprinkled manure by those leaf-joints, and was helped by moist weather (in drought the joints don’t sprout roots), and so I got a nice crop of that particular type of squash. I also could see why my ancestors preferred that species, though acorn and buttercup taste better.

      My ancestors also liked Hubbard Squash, but they must have known some trick I don’t, for I’ve never even produced the forty-pound monsters they grow, and this year didn’t even produce a midget.

      Sounds to me like you’ve been hit by two early season blasts of winter. Hopefully this is just a “Squaw Winter”, and you’ll enjoy “Indian Summer” and a respite of Chinooks.

      • Yup …. still a good 3 to 5 cm of snow on the lawns but the roads are clear. Lots of ice in some parking lots make walking treacherous in spots.
        Todays warmth (forecast is 8 C) should melt the last of Mondays snow but it is starting at -3 to -6 C depending on where u are in Calgary.
        Definitely the coldest “autumn” in my 40 years of living in Calgary although 1984 was warmer up to mid october and then went full arctic and was -27 on October 31st … we had two kids for halloween!! I remember the day well since I had bot a new car and changing license plate bolts at those temps was nasty. Somethings u just can’t do with gloves on and nothing freezes the hands faster than handling metal parts and tools at -20.

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