by Venice R. Williams—
“That’s why gardening season is over!”
These are the words my teenage children, Josiah and Sojourner, used to toss my way whenever I would get on their nerves during the cold winter months. In playful- yet-truth-filled moments of frustration with their mother, they knew that the most effective way to get under my skin was to remind me that winter was upon us, that I was unable to go outside to tend to my gardens.
I am a different person once the Wisconsin growing season comes to an end. During those first few weeks in November, once I have harvested the last of my sage and hyssop, kale and collard greens, once I have put my gardens to bed, I can feel my spirit begin to droop and dry up. I am an awkward kind of human when I am unable to dig my hands into the layers of soil the earth has to offer. As a farmer and gardener, I know well all of the scientific evidence of how our physical health is directly related to the condition of the soil in which our food is grown.
In all of the urban agriculture classes I teach, the lessons begin with my reminding those who have gathered about the power of good soil, so that you may grow good food.
However, my winter-recoiling at the close of the growing season goes much deeper than that. My soul is nourished by my relationship with the rich soil, warm sun, dancing butterflies and ripe fruits of the earth. In early winter, as my wanderings onto the land and communings with so many of our partners and allies in creation begin to subside, so does my joy, my energy and my hopefulness. Every winter, I have to clear a new path toward spring. Each December, I must teach myself anew how to embrace the coldness, the migration or hibernation of neighboring creatures, the lack of warmth and light this new season will bring with it.
WHAT WINTER DEMANDS
It doesn’t matter that I know it is about to happen. Of course I know that the snow and wind and ice will soon appear. Still, a piece of me goes dormant along with my lavender, coneflower and rue. Autumn, in all of its beauty, has already pleasantly modeled for me what it means to let go.
Very often, what winter demands of me simply feels rude and unrelenting. My whole being begins to mourn. My gardens tend to me as much as I tend them. We cultivate each other. Come December, not even the busyness of the holidays and special events are a deep enough salve for what ails me.
The New International Version translation of Psalm 74:17 guides me through the depths of the very first snowstorm or freezing temperatures: “It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth. You made both summer
Lord knows, I need boundaries. If God did not give me the seasonal boundary of very cold days and only offered me the sweltering heat of summer, I would not be balanced and whole.
Venice R. Williams is executive director of Alice’s Garden Urban Farm and The Body and Soul Healing Arts Center, both in Milwaukee. She is also the developer of an ELCA worshipping community called The Table.
This article is excerpted from the December 2019 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.
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