by Erin Tuttle
[Ed. note: This article is part of our series of weekly reflections, called Deep Down Things, published on Wednesdays.]
We live by mercy if we live.
To that we have no fit reply
But working well and giving thanks,
Loving God, loving one another,
To keep Creation’s neighborhood.
And my friend David Kline told me,
“It falls strangely on Amish ears,
This talk of how you find yourself.
We Amish, after all don’t try
To find ourselves. We try to lose
Ourselves”—and thus are lost within
The found world of sunshine and rain
Where fields are green and then are ripe,
And the people eat together by
The charity of God, who is kind
Even to those who give no thanks.
- from “Amish Economy” by Wendell Berry
I flip on the basement light and tiptoe down the stairs with broom and dustpan. I spend an afternoon sweeping dry soil from the germinating mats, checking grow lights, washing the floor. Upstairs, seed catalogues lie on my desktop, wrinkled and marked by my careful choosing. Coffee cans line the countertops, labeled Fabaceae, Brassicaceae, Compositae, ready to house the seed packets of their corresponding families: beans, cabbages, lettuces. I stare out the back window, imagining the snow away, and mark my calendar for transplant dates.
A neighbor stops by with a few jars of last year’s beets and sweet pickles. I give her two bags of carrots, some frozen beans; it feels good to know that we are still eating last season’s harvest. We will use our remaining storage onions right around the time the Allium cernuum and chives have flushed to flavor our salads and spring soups. Our pantry is lined with enough winter squash to take us through the Lenten season.
My sister works at a supermarket in Seattle and tells me how the products she stocks and sells flow through her hands in a torrent of motion, always arriving, always leaving, feeding the insatiable needs of our tables and bellies. It makes her dizzy to have no beginning, end, or variation to this process, and I realize that, by growing our food, we understand the ebb and flow of the seasons in a way that our culture has ceased to know. We see our pantry shelves filled and emptied, gardens alive and asleep, food available or consumed until it can grow again.
Bending and stooping, I lean into trowel, sweat, catch breath, ache. I am reminded of my limitedness in the garden, my sweet, gritty humanity. Stretching out my arms, I see toil in the form of scrapes and smudges, and I contemplate the mysterious uniting of beauty and backache in this mosaic. It is my privilege and my curse to venerate the earthen world with sweat and love, and I do it to give action and form to the mysterious and abundant redemption at hand. I do it as an act of waiting, an act of reconciliation, and an act of transfiguration.
Roving the contours of my home landscape, I harvest heads of cabbage and dig beets from the soil. I fork the top layer from the compost pile to reveal a heart beating with redworms and sow bugs. I cut the squash-vine borers, fat as a thumb, from the scratchy cucurbit vines and throw them to the chickens. In the evening I make coffee and drink it outside while the sound of traffic rolls over the cedar fence and the dog sighs by my feet. The moments are mundane and trivial, and they pass like sleepy clouds of gnats in the reddening sky.
But at the end of the day, I gather the hours of inconsequence and line them on the windowsill like a collection of blue Mason jars, each filled with dried grains or legumes, a cutting of devil’s ivy: roots filamentous and suspended in water. The lingering light filters through dust-covered surfaces, illuminating their humble beauty, until I realize that all these moments, marked by my love and labor, make up something that is soft and shimmering and alive within me.
I keep sneaking downstairs to peek at shelves that soon will hold the naissance of our year’s fare. I realize that, year after year, I will gain a deeper knowledge of this breath before the motion, this final rest before the world erupts again into life and growing. I’ll become better at living within the restraint of seasons, better at assuming a posture of meekness rather than dominion. Every year I will watch sprouts break the soil, necks bent under the weight of their necessity, bright green with the advent of hope.
Erin Tuttle likes to spend her time tending the patch of dirt in her backyard, growing vegetables and good soil. She has completed graduate studies at Regent College and a natural history certification with The Morton Arboretum. She is on staff at The Conservation Foundation, a not-for-profit land and watershed protection organization, and she co-edits the women’s journal Seeding the Snow. Three chickens fill her days with entertainment, her garden with the soft sounds of their clucks, and her compost pile with excellent fertilizer.