Iris coming up. You know what pops in my head when I see these new iris? “And these are my steeples” from that kids game where you fold your hands into a church. I like visiting churches… as a tourist. I’ve seen quite a few across the world, but not many inspire the simple awe of spring and sunlight on new green, or the grace of hands on dirt, or the benediction of brushing off damp gritty knees after kneeling to weed. Excuse me while I go look up the word benediction… Not totally sure what it means…
A little boy asked me not long ago what a church was, as we drove by one, and I tried to explain, I said churches were where people went to pray and talk to God. He asked me if churches where were God lived. Well, I said, it’s kind of his house, but he doesn’t live there. He’s everywhere. I thought that was the end of it, but then he asked me, “what are we made of?” What are we made of? What? What should I answer? Skin and bones? I reached way back and remembered a song lyric and something about carbon. We are all made of stars, I said. He was quiet the rest of the way home.
We have this patch of garden, these apple trees, and those woods, to hold onto while we choose. Sometimes, I think, that is taken for granted.
We have this place we call our own, to garden, to plant fruit trees and raise children and chickens, and we haven’t ventured here from all that far away. We haven’t sailed across oceans, migrating as my Dutch ancestors did in the seventeenth century to America. We haven’t traveled here from another home, driven by war. My grandparents did, my grandmother a woman traveling alone with her children, my mother and uncles, traveling through Europe by train during World War II, my grandfather away, in the thick of it. I heard war stories as a child that would make your hair stand on end, but I haven’t gone through it myself. I can only imagine the journey, and remember the stories about the attempt to cross the perilous and enter into safety, to shelter from bomb blasts under piles of suitcases tumbled into and out of a targeted train, picking a way through bomb craters, swims through icy rivers and long roads. The risk, the danger, the war stories that, as a child I grew impatient hearing over and over from one particular grandparent, trying to settle in for the long story, not being able to quite resign oneself to hearing it again. Many of those, I’ve mainly forgotten, but I do remember some, mainly the ones from those that rarely spoke of it. I’m lucky to be here.
With the recent news coverage of refugees in my mind, I’ve felt mixed about posting pictures of baskets overflowing with tomatoes and apples, about posting pictures of the extraordinary abundance this year. Those that do not have a place to call their own, those even who are fleeing from war, their stories recall memories of stories long ago. I feel just one or two steps removed, filled with empathy, unable to help in any real way, thankful for what I have, and a sense of horror for what others have lost, or risk losing, in their attempt to cross to safety. A small boy in a red tee shirt and blue shorts, the same age as my son, indelibly etched in my memory from the news this week. And, Matthew Price of the BBC tweeting about a walk from Budapest, for eight hours or more, with a Syrian mother, pushing her two year old in a stroller, her four year old beside her, holding her hand (and Mr. Price’s kindness in lifting him up onto his shoulders and walking the rest of the way with them, in the dark by the side of the road with other refugees).
As the seasons move forward, as the months and years go by, as we make our way through life, this land is ours for a bit, and to have that, to know where we will sleep and what we will next eat, we are fortunate, more than we may realize.
In the garden, September is a leg of the garden journey, the month we travel into fall’s rush of leaves and eventual stark branches, and then on to winter and long nights lit by candles. September in the garden is a month of departures and slow good byes. The lush garden season comes to an end this month; we do not extend the season with sheets or cold frames, or hoop houses (yet). It’s been hot, and dry for the past two weeks. The cucumber leaves crisped, then the pumpkin leaves. So dry, that the sunflower leaves wilted, as did the morning glory vines I planted to climb up them. I hauled the hose over, and watered what I wanted to keep: the sunflowers, the morning glories, the rainbow Swiss chard and the kale. The beans are too far gone. The potatoes need to be dug, the plants long ago withered. I pulled ripe jalapenos into a basket, and a final harvest of tomatoes. I went through the pumpkins, and cut them from the vine, leaving a generous stem end to cure and dry. The tomato plants were blighted, the leaves entirely brown, so once the tomatoes had been picked, the plants were uprooted and piled into the wheelbarrow, the wire tomato cages and stakes pulled and stacked. Next year, we need tomato supports made of 2×4’s, if we grow this variety again (Big Beef). I am not joking, I need serious tomato supports. A lone cherry tomato is left, ‘Supersweet 100’ an indeterminate sprawling plant, the leaves still lush. The corn plants cut, or pulled. Last year, we left the corn to stand through October, a spooky seasonal end to the garden, but this year I want them gone, to better reveal the row of sunflowers with morning glories climbing.
I was driving home the other night, and a car pulled to a stop in the other lane, full of teenagers, their heads craned to the lane far in front of me. I slowed, and stopped, unsure as to what the problem might be. A back door opened, and a teenager in a red shirt, basketball-tall and gangly, stepped out and looked at the road, looked uncertainly at me. I made a “go ahead, be my guest” gesture with my hand, waving him into my lane, in front of my car, where he picked up a turtle that I could barely even see, and brought it all the way across the road. I smiled and drove on once the road was clear. People can be so kind when they choose to.
If only it were so easy the world over, and among human beings, as complex as they are. If only we could make consideration, or mercy, mandatory. We must all reach up, reach down, and reach across to others. We are lucky to be here. We are all, in our own way, crossing to safety, some on much more perilous journeys.
Wishing safe travels for all, and that all may cross to safety.