One of the less pleasant pests in the garden is the slug. They're gray, slimy, and voracious--they love greens of all sorts, and can munch through whole crops if you're not careful. Gardeners try many strategies to defeat the common slug--sprinkling crushed eggshells or coffee grounds around the stems of plants (slugs don't like to slime across them, as they get stuck to the slug's body), putting out little bowls of beer (slugs are attracted, and then drown), allowing ducks into the garden (but ducks like greens too!), and simply snipping them with scissors (the merciless method).
We've tried all of these to little success, but last year the Sisters noticed, despairingly, that the Chinese Cabbages were just riddled with slugs, and eaten so thoroughly that they looked like lace. Thinking about it, we came up with the idea of planting Chinese Cabbages as a "trap crop"--a sacrifice--to draw the slugs away from the other crops.
Well, it worked better than we ever imagined! In this picture, you can see a perfect head of Golden Acre Cabbage, right next to a Chinese Cabbage that's been nearly demolished. The slugs are happy, our other crops are happy, and the folks who buy our produce at the farmers market are happy too. We used to joke that our crops were "twice-eaten"--first by slugs, then by us. Not anymore!
But it does mean going without Chinese Cabbage--I don't think we'll get a single one for ourselves to eat. Which is too bad, because it is delicious! But giving up Chinese Cabbage is saving us a lot of other headaches and worry, so it's worth it in the end.
As I'm writing, I'm thinking about what else I might be able to sacrifice, to save myself headaches and despair. One of the most important practices in small-scale organic farming is that of observation--paying close attention to what's happening with every crop and volunteer plant throughout the garden. If you're paying attention, you can nap those first few potato beetles before they reproduce like crazy, creating more "catch-up work" for you, and eating up all your potato plants... If you're looking closely every day, you can see which plants are about to flower, and select some for seed and prune back others. If you're being observant, you will see which plants are flourishing and which are flagging, which need to be staked up or supported. Observing allows you to discern patterns and change course, either immediately or in the future.
The Sisters came upon the Chinese Cabbage solution through careful observation, and we adjusted our plans--and our expectations--to incorporate plants that were intended, from the first, as a sacrifice. Rather than "fighting" the slugs, we made room for them, in a way. If I could practice close observation on my own habits, behaviors, "stuff," what patterns might I discern? What could I make room for, or let go of?
This past week, I remembered that I could work on sacrificing my long anger at "the Church." I wonder what would grow if I could just leave that anger out there in the field to decompose, rather than feeding it? There's plenty of slimy stuff about the Church that has the potential to drive me to distraction, to make me want to run away from even the appearance of praying. I heard this week about a brou-ha-ha between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Episcopal Church in the U.S.--the Archbishop insisted that the Presiding Bishop of the church in the US, a woman, not wear her miter (Bishop's hat) when preaching at a church in the UK. I suppose that he didn't want to inflame the existing antagonism against ordaining women bishops, and wanted to downplay the visibility of her bishop-ness. Whatever. It's lame. Right now, I could devolve into ranting about patriarchy, authority, and power.
Or I could remember that Jesus didn't care about fighting the religious institutions of his day, and that he instead focused on feeding people, healing people, and bringing people into his understanding of the holiness that surrounds us. We are in heaven now, if we choose to be.
This coming week, the Gospel is one of my favorites. Jesus is approached by someone who says he wants to join Jesus, and Jesus says, "Follow me." Then the person says something like, "But first let me go bury my relative. Then I'll follow you." Jesus responds, "Let the dead bury their own dead." This strikes me deep in my heart. It reminds me to go where the life is, and let that which is dead be. I need to let the flaws of "the Church" be, however petty or devastatingly consequential they are. I can sacrifice that (self)righteous anger, keep my heart whole, and go where the love is. I'll let the dead bury their own dead, fighting over miters, and I'll go to the garden, where the life is.