Planting a Life: How keeping a garden is good for the soul (October)
By Rev. Judith Laxer
Harvesting happens in waves. If the weather was conducive, if you had time when the time was right, if you were successful in getting your seeds to sprout and your starts to root, you might have been harvesting your own lettuce and radishes by Memorial Day. Summer brings fruition in turn; peas and beans, zukes and peppers. Grains ripen as August arrives and by the end of September, apples and pears join tomatoes of every shape, color and size in readiness. The delight in eating all you’ve tended is good. Upholding the tradition of preserving is fun as dreams of apple sauce on your deep Winter breakfast of oatmeal bubble up with the canning water. Learning to make syrup from your blackberries is a new trick to savor. And the colors of Autumn are a feast in themselves.
The October garden is a mix of the last of the produce still clinging to life and the decay of the life now spent. Now we begin to harvest the hardier crops: sweet carrots and burgundy beets, papery clad onion, sturdy potato, peppery horseradish root and plump, orange pumpkin, which is not only delicious but brings to mind All Hallow’s Eve with its Witches and Ghosts, Black Cats and sweet candy.
The last night of October is said to be the night when the veil thins between the living and our Beloved Dead. The night when we can most easily reach through to connect to those who have passed before us. To have a reunion with the Spirits of those on the other side. Over time, this holy day has lost this original meaning. In our culture of denial about death and mortality, and in many ways bereft of healthy practices around it, it has become a time to exploit our fear about the dead and dying, depicted in displays of gore and blood and violence and frightening otherworldly characters with evil intent.
This causes me to ponder the words “Grim Reaper”. On the growth cycle, scythes reap grain and seeds are gleaned for the future. Reap? Yes. Grim? No! We are not grim as we swing that scythe; we are grateful, jubilant even, as we cut. We know it is necessary for life to continue. We might not think this way, but we encounter death as we harvest. We give death to each and every fruit and vegetable when we cut it down and take it in to nourish ourselves. As I walk around those beds filling my basket with garden goodness, I am the Grim Reaper! I may be standing there in my old jeans, garden clogs and gloves, holding my clippers, but to that little tomato, I might as well be wearing a long, black hooded robe that obscures my skull face, carrying a scythe taller than my head.
Our sense of time is heightened now because the days are growing shorter and the year is drawing to a close. I walk my garden in long sleeves against the morning chill, assessing the weather, pondering who will get more time to ripen and whose life will come to an end in this moment. I pull up the plant skeletons; the languished leaves and browned blossoms, and toss them in the compost. I gather the dried pods that I let wither on the vine and collect their beans to grow next year’s crop. I do this knowing someday I, too, will meet that great gleaner, the Grim Reaper. I will look into the empty holes that once held eyes in that skull, and my life will come to an end. Someday my remains will be added to the compost heap of this magnificent Earth. And hopefully, the nourishment my soul has provided while I walked among the living will become healthy growth for the future long after I am gone.
Rev. Judith Laxer is a modern day mystic who believes that humor, beauty and the wonders of nature make life worth living. She is the founding Priestess of Gaia’s Temple, an inclusive, Earth-based Ministry with over a decade of service. www.gaiastemple.org, www.judithlaxer.com