Jul 19, 2010
At Brightside, this is what I've come to think of as Waiting Time.
The interim space, after the crushing work of Spring, and early Summer's abundant anxieties (What seeds will germinate? What plants will thrive? What needs more water? What needs replanting?) and before Harvest Time begins in earnest, with its daily, Drill Sergeant demand to pick and cook and store.
This time, from mid-July to the first week of August, is a pregnant pause.
Not at all unlike the third trimester of pregnancy itself. By the seventh month, the new being housed in its mother's womb is, in a very real sense, volitional. The baby has committed to being whomever the baby will be. And thus whatever influence the mother could have had, prior to the baby's arrival on Earth, is to a large extent ended. This is not to say that the mother's care of herself is not important at this point--of course it is--but it is to note that, by the third trimester, the matter is largely out of her hands.
And so it is with an Allegheny Mountain garden in mid-July.
Certainly, I continue to take care of the garden as best I can. As best I know how. I pick off cabbage white butterfly caterpillars. I pinch back suckers on the tomato plants. I spray a kitchen-blended, oil-soap mixture for whiteflies. I've even started setting mousetraps in the broccoli patch--and catching mice every day! The little devils have shown quite the appetite for broccoli and parsley this year.
I'm not saying that what I'm doing has no influence or no importance. (The broccoli are actually thriving again after I began trapping mice!) What I am saying is that whatever influence I can have at this point in the garden's turbo-charged development is spotty at best, and perhaps more a matter of accident, or dumb luck than design. From here on in to Harvest Time, the matter is largely out of my hands.
Any given day now, as I stand amid the burgeoning chaos of deep green plants and vines and brilliant-hued blossoms, I can hear them. Kindly polite. Respectful but firm. "Thanks much, but we'll take it from here."
There's really nothing for me to do, but wait.
In May, when I was asked what vegetables and fruit I'd have this year, I shrugged. "Mother Nature hasn't told me her plans," I said with a smile.
And while it's tempting in this mid-July interim--as purple, yellow, orange and white blossoms abound in my garden, as the tomato plants become heavy with green fruit, as the blackberries swell and the apples blush and the sumac berry clusters begin to darken--it's tempting to say I know something I simply do not, this fact remains: I won't know what I have until I pick it.
In the meantime, in the between-time, I must wait.
We, all of us, Americans are famously bad at waiting. Waiting, the mere idea of it, conjures fingernails-on-a-blackboard irritation. A suspension of animation imposed by tyrannical forces. Nearly everything about American life conveys the message that losers wait, winners get on with it. Which is to admit that my acceptance of the not-so-simple declarative sentence "I must wait" has not come easy. Yet it has come. If this Pocahontas County land has taught me anything it is that I must wait.
I have also learned that how I wait is entirely up to me.
Are there better and worse ways of waiting? Yes, I think there are. To this end, the etymology of "wait" reveals some instructive connections.
The verb "wait" originates circa 1200 as "waitier," meaning "to watch," and conveying the meaning "lie in wait for." The sense of "wait" meaning "remain in one place" conveys from 1375. From the beginning, waiting and watching were closely, even inextricably connected activities. When I wait, I must watch. In order to watch, I must remain in one place. I must stay here, right here. I must be still.
However, and here's the tricky part, I must not fall asleep!
"Watch," in its oldest forms "waeccan," "wacan," and "wacian," means to be awake, to become awake, or to remain awake. Simply put, in order to wait--or at least in order to wait with any hope of successful outcome--I must allow all my senses to engage, to receive, and to report back to me. Not just war-time sentries and anyone who has played Hide-and-Seek, but every gardener knows this to be true.
It is precisely in interim times, times of seductive, counterfeit waiting, sleepy waiting, that the gardener turns around to discover (if not a knife at your throat or the sad news that "You're IT") near equally-calamitous 18-inch zucchini and overripe tomatoes.
"When did that happen!?"
The usual way. Every day. A little bit at a time.
In other words, something is always happening in the garden, the orchard, the forest. It only appears that nothing is happening to those too sleepy to engage, receive, and report back.
This land is teaching me a better way, a more wakeful way of waiting.