fighting fertility

It's been nearly a month since I last updated this blog--I knew June and July would get busy, but's been BUSY.  And there's so much to tell!  First, the gardens have been amazing, yielding buckets of strawberries, then raspberries, pounds of luscious sweet peas, and greens of every variety, including giant bok choi, crisp cabbages, and buttery lettuces.  June was lovely: cooler, with misty mornings and green hues everywhere.  We've had delicious salads every day, "put up" or stored at least 10 head of cabbage in the form of sauerkraut, frozen 12 gallon-size bags of peas, and enjoyed many pieces of strawberry rhubarb pie.  What colors, and crunch, what a contrast to those last rutabagas in our winter rootcellar...

We'd planted about 20 beds of brassicas, including kale, collard greens, bok choi, tat soi, mizuna, and arugula, and cabbage.  Kohlrabi, cauliflower, chard, broccoli, and broccoli raab rounded out the list.  And because of the warm temperatures in May and June, all these plants flourished, growing faster than we could keep up.  We began bringing baskets of produce to the food pantry, as the crops came in quicker than we could use them, and before the farmers market had begun.

Sr. Catherine Grace at the marketIn mid-June, the local farmers market began, to our relief!  We had planned our crops to be ready for early June, and even the delay of two weeks meant that we were fighting to keep our bok choi and other crops from "going to seed," that is, from trying to reproduce.  Almost every day, we had to go around the garden and chop off any sign of emerging seed pods.  Bok choi, for example, sends out a little floret from the very center of the plant, which needs to be snipped right away, otherwise the plant grows quickly into a tower of seeds and shoots.  We've spent quite a bit of time these last 6 weeks searching for any signs of flowering, scissors in hand...

Anne holds up a new potato

And it got pretty hot as soon as the end of June rolled around.  In 90+ degree heat, we grabbled new potatoes on the 4th of July, carefully feeling around underneath the plant to find the treasures buried there. Then, in the midst of a real heat wave over the last two weeks, we harvested quart after quart of dry peas, socking them away for the winter.  And just Saturday, we harvested hundreds of bulbs of garlic, now sitting in the barn to finish drying out. We had, earlier in June, cut off the garlic "scapes" (curly shoots of the plant), which contain a seed pod.  Doing so ensures that the plant sends its energy into growing the bulb, rather than into reproducing! The scapes are delicious, and we froze and pickled the lot of them, to enjoy their garlicky flavor for months to come.  

Armfuls of seeds and flowers

This business of fighting fertility is a little unsettling.  Just as I am focusing my good thoughts and so much energy on helping this garden grow, I am also running around making sure it doesn't grow too fast, that the plants stay productive without reproducing.  I've pulled out little mountains of plants gone to seed...

And I think it touches me particularly because I'm turning 40 in just a few short months, and I'm aware that my own reproductive "season" is coming to an end.  I haven't felt a biological pull toward having a child in a long time, not since I was about 20, I think.  But I've been feeling it lately.  The drive of life to continue, to arise again in a new form, is ubiquitous, and powerful. I sense that I am part of a much larger framework of fertility, of life striving to live.  Being in the garden, seeing lifecycles up close, having my hand in the work of extending life, or not--all this has impact, and resonance.  I am pulling up plants now full of seed pods, and I feel a little for them, for their thwarted fertility.  I choose a few to keep, to collect their seed, to preserve them for the future.  I marvel at the fact that baby girls are born with all the ovum they will ever have, that the eggs I have remaining have been with me since I was formed.  I feel the life force of my ovaries, filled with eggs like little mustard seeds, with seeming infinite potential.  Life, waiting to be realized.  I'm so thankful that in the midst of all this--fighting the fertility of the garden, and feeling my own biological pull--my sister has just given birth to a baby girl, Isabel, who I'll be able to shower with love in the years to come.  Fertility and life wins, in the end...

How fitting then, that last night, I came across a wonderful poem--thanks to a great blog called "Our Local Life: What We Need Is Here."  The first few lines especially caught my attention, given that I was musing about fertility, seeds, and buds.  The poem is entitled "St Francis and the Sow," and it is written by Galway Kinnell, an American poet from Providence, RI.  I will definitely be looking for more of his work...

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

In this season, I feel called to appreciate the potency of the bud, to recognize the flowering within, and to appreciate the "thingness of things," the intrinsic essence of life in whatever form it takes.