I couldn’t bring myself to write about the end of the gardening season this year. How could I say goodbye? Who can find words to express the way you feel when you are separated from someone – or something – you’ve held so dear, even for just a season? It was hard to bring closure to all the experiences I had, nurturing seedlings to maturity to reaping a harvest-full of memories with my husband and children.
Harriette Jacobs from South of the Gnat Line asked me if I “winter garden.” I chuckled at the thought. I would if I could, but frigid Illinois winters prevent us from planting cold weather crops. Even though our imaginations remain alive with dreams and plans for next year’s garden, the ground must rest.
This year, most of the vegetables were harvested long before the frost came. Due to too much rain in August, the tomato plants shriveled and turned brown by September, a good month before the chilling temperatures arrived. Unlike most years, when my fingers – numb with cold – fumble under broad green leaves for the last home-grown tomatoes, the children and I picked the vines clean in 70-degree weather with the sun beating down upon our backs.
Finally, October 12th, dawned. A surprise blizzard barreled down on us from the North, mocking our attempts to keep the garden permanently fixed in our affections. I donned a pair of gloves, boots, and my warm winter parka. In-between squalls I sloshed up to the garden to take pictures of the remaining snow-covered vegetables. Anna joined me, and as we walked the garden path, we recited the opening line from James Whitcomb Riley’s poem, “When the Frost is on the Punkin’.” The weather radio forecasted a hard frost that night and sure enough, by the next morning, Jack Frost had stole ruthlessly across the fields, scaling the garden fence, icy sword in hand to slay my heart.
I knew this day would come, and even though I made a conscious effort to spend more time up in the garden than I did last year, I still couldn’t believe the growing season was over. Gone were all the joy-filled mornings of sitting under the young walnut tree, watching the American gold finches flit from one sunflower to another. Gone was the hallowed spot of earth next to the bean trellises, where from my chair I surveyed my garden with delight. Sitting there, shaded from the hot sun with my Bible, journal and cup of coffee, I listened intently to the words and phrases that God brought to mind. Pictures and analogies formed, causing my heart to understand the truths that He was teaching me – lessons that could only be learned from observing young pole beans inch their way to the sky or heavy cucumbers hang from thin tender vines. The time spent walking the garden paths brought deep contentment as I drank in the heavenly fragrance of milkweed in July and the spicy odor of tomato perfume in August. And here it was December…and no words came.
As much as I like to be prepared, I ran out of time to put together a present for our dear neighbor, Mrs. Kraft. Sarah, as she likes to be called, is 90 and there isn’t much she needs or wants any more and there isn’t much you can surprise her with unless you give her a one-of-a-kind homemade gift. Over the last few years I have given her a lot of nature-related gifts because the land we live on belongs to her.
One year, we gave her a DVD filled with nature photography and drawings that we had captured of specimens that she and her family just take for granted. Another year I gave her a series of watercolors, painted from wildflowers that grow on her two hundred acre farm. Another year I gave her a book full of journal entries recounting the stories and comments she had said to us over the year’s time. This year I found myself wondering what kind of gift would really bless her – something that I hadn’t done before.
I looked at my canned goods shelf. I had already given her several different jars of pickles at harvest time. And then I thought about my garden journal. She hadn’t heard these stories yet. I got my binder out and thumbed through the entries. This would make a wonderful gift along with a jar of crabapple sauce from her favorite little crabapple tree. There was one more thing. Our pet goose Peep-Peep (also one of Sarah’s favorites)just started laying again. We had a large white egg we could give her. I carefully wrapped it inside a vintage Christmas hankie with red embroidered poinsettias that my sister had sent from Maine.
When Sarah opened her presents she was so thrilled. She thanked me over and over again for the “priceless” gifts. I knew once again that we had given her a gift of gratitude from our hearts to hers, and that’s when the words came – the story of how my garden journal found its way to Sarah’s hands on Christmas Day. It was the perfect ending to a joy-filled gardening season…and “priceless!”