When the thermometer reached up into the 60s on Friday, unseasonably warm for late December in Indiana, the last of the snow melted from my yard.
Though the temperatures have sunk back below freezing, with the snow now gone, I am once again greeted each day by the leaves still lying on the ground, the leaves I didn’t rake up last fall. The space between my yard and the road, which is nothing more than a storm sewer, was full of other people’s garbage that had been thrown from car windows just before the snow. I picked up most of it in time for trash day. And the little patch of wilted lettuce in the garden, planted too late in the hot summer and then bolted in the warm late fall, becomes now, again, a symbol of my inability to subdue the land.
Over the last four and a half years of living on this parcel, I have slowly been training and caring for this land. I painstakingly pry out the bits of metal and stone she expels, remnants of other tenants in other times. I feed her with natural amendments and resist using chemicals to change her looks. With gloved hands and wheelbarrow, I have hauled off hundreds of sticks and dandelions and fallen leaves that seek to damage or destroy her – that’s how I see it anyway. Instead, I help her to yield and produce.
I regularly scoop up handfuls of her, gently breaking apart her hardened clods. I hold her, care for her, train her, and eat from her. I can even love her, this land I live on. But really, she isn’t mine.
“How much do I love land?” Ann Voskamp asks in her essay, “The Land that is Us,” in the book The Spirit of Food. She recounts a season when she and her farmer husband considered more than doubling the land they owned, a decision so obviously wrapped up in the future they had to consider whether their children would carry on the calling of farmer, passed down from multiple generations.
I come from farmer stock, too, though not so clearly delineated. I’ve often wondered what it would have meant to choose a farming life for myself on the land of my family. But since that’s not the path I chose back then, I find myself doing the next best thing. Seeking to love the land I have now.
Farmer isn’t a name I call myself, working up just a few small beds each year on a lot less than half an acre. Gardener is my name, and slowly, I am developing a history here of what works (tomatoes) and what doesn’t (strawberries), of just how much the land is willing to yield.
I live in an old suburban area that feels more and more urban as people move further and further out. I am just blocks from the city bus route, though we still don’t have sidewalks in front of our homes or city sewers for our waste. The area is changing, maybe for the worse, even as I am trying to change this land for the better. Most likely, I will feel the need to move from here, eventually, leaving behind the land I will have worked so hard for.
But that is the story written for all of us, isn’t it? We leave the dirt to become dirt. Isn’t that, finally, why we all must love the land?
I am writing today in community with my friends at thehighcalling.org. Beginning today, we are working our way through the book, The Spirit of Food, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields. Today, we considered the first five essays in a section called “On the Way to the Table.” Click on the button above to see what others are writing. Then, pick up the book yourself and join us for next Monday’s discussion.