Sprouts from my Garden

It is the dead of winter in Indiana, and South Bend last week set a new record for the most snow in a 24-hour period. I shoveled our front sidewalks after it stopped and the snow was at the middle of my thigh. While such shoveling can be rough, the dead of winter is blessedly dead here―for five months nothing grows outside. It is a fabulous break from the never-ending yard-work of summer when, in a single season, weeds can easily get over six-feet-tall with stalks so thick that one wonders if they are weeds or saplings. But, even in these snowy months of much-appreciated rest, the gardener in me is beginning to plan for spring, staring at snow-covered beds and imagining tomatoes, crook-neck squash, beans (variety still to be decided), okra, maybe some rhubarb.

My own aspirations for this spring seem small, however, when compared with some friends in Sydney: the “funky frontyard farmers” grow a tremendous variety of crops and  this January the family of five have taken a week and lived solely out of their front-yard garden. Reading through their blog, I felt exhilarated and envious that Australians get to have backyard chickens to supply their families with eggs, while I am limited to by city restrictions to growing only fruits and vegetables.

My deep chicken-envy and all this thinking about gardening leads me to a very basic question: But why is it that I―a relatively well-educated woman living in a developed country―want to grow my own food and raise chickens? What is so appealing about being tied-down by a garden and chooks all summer long?

In the creation narrative recorded in Genesis, we read that God placed humanity in the garden to “cultivate and care for it.” Some translations use the word “work” or “tend” rather than “cultivate” but all three get at something that goes against the grain of the West’s fast-paced, convenience-loving, and frequently throw-away cultures. In the Genesis narrative, humanity is created to care for things in a particular place. We are designed to be tied-down to the particular needs of the plants and animals, soil and water, children and adults who make-up a given place.

Freedom from responsibility to a place and its things shapes our culture: in the glamorization of frequent, exotic travel, ever-changing fashion demanding new things each season (now for one’s home as well as one’s body), not to mention planned obsolescence in technological gadgets, disposable diapers, plastic forks, paper plates and napkins. New, fast and work-free is better than old, slow and work-filled. But we are increasingly forced to recognize that such living not only destroys our planet but destroys our souls as well.

In cultures apparently intent on killing themselves (and everyone else) to secure their own convenience, the biblical worldview offers a different understanding of what makes for human contentment. The Genesis narrative suggests that our tending and caring for the world ― down to the most basic acts of weeding our front garden ― are life-giving and life-fulfilling actions. Such work may not be hassle free but it is good. And perhaps that is the reason I find myself longing for spring and a bag of seeds.

Jessica Hughes

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4 responses to “Sprouts from my Garden

  1. Thanks Jessica – you’ve got me thinking. Surely some conveniece is helpful Would you have valued some mechanical aid to shovel your snow? Your post has probably been read by many people who would nver have seen it if you’d decided to handwrite and hand-deliver it. When does convenience become captivity? Not disagreeing – just trying to think it through – electronically!

    • Sean, thank you for your comment. You are right that some technological developments are truly wonderful, as are some conveniences. With any development and especially with those that simply make things easier but do little else, the question is what is the cost of the convenience.

      For example, you asked about a mechanical aid to help with the snow―while it would have been quicker to have a snow blower, my husband and I would have lost significant things using a power tool rather than the shovel. A snow-blower would have cost us at least $175 more than our snow shovel (without factoring in the cost of the gas or electricity to run the machine. We would have reduced the amount of exercise we got shoveling. We probably would not have spent as much time outside using a snow-blower and it turned out that being out in the winter wonderland of fresh snow was pretty fun (especially for our dog, who got to run around while we shoveled). And, we would have lost the community time―my husband helped our next-door neighbor shovel his driveway so he could get out to the store (where he bought us some supplies as well). Granted, we could have had some time with our neighbor using a snow-blower on his driveway and our dog could have played while we took a walk in the snow. The reality, though, is that shoveling show opens up both more time for conversation with a neighbor and more space, since you don’t have to try and talk over the noise, not to mention the camaraderie of doing something together. And our dog, well, it was cold and so I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have spent so much time outside and, thus, she would have spent less time outside. Furthermore, using a machine has a greater environmental cost than using a shovel. So, in the final equation, the cost for that convenience is far too high.

      Many of our day-to-day conveniences have similarly high costs (disposable diapers are another great one to consider). Others, when used wisely and well prove to be fabulous on many fronts (computers and the internet certainly fall into this category for me, although not because more people can read what I write!). The trick, then, is to weigh the total cost carefully and not assume that personal ease or one’s time trumps everything else. Convenience become captivity (a great phrase, btw) when we lose the ability to live happily and well without it or when we become so addicted to ease that we will pursue that at any cost.

      I appreciate your thinking through these things with me―even electronically!

  2. I do not mind the tending to and weeding of the garden, but I do have a problem with the mosquitoes. In Alaska we have weeks and weeks of weeding and donating blood to our small winged friends, before I see the ‘fruit of my labor’.

    • Pete, my sympathies on the mosquitos. They are the one part of creation I cannot come to terms with. They often seem closer to satanic minions than any part of a good created order! Blessings on your garden and prayers that it won’t be too bad a mozzie season!

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