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zucchini3 (1 of 1)About this time every year, I always wonder why I planted so many zucchini plants. Stacks of the shiny green vegetable—along with the yellow variety I also planted—pile up on the kitchen counter. The menu is filled with similar-sounding dinners: zucchini spaghetti, zucchini fajitas, zucchini rice casserole, zucchini crescent pie—and that’s just for starters. Why, oh why, did I plant so much?zucchini1 (1 of 1)

 

Apparently over the winter my memories fade. By the time planting season rolls in I have forgotten just how many vegetables those few hills produced. Three hills of zucchini and two of yellow summer squash. It doesn’t seem like that much. Of course, it might be better if I actually thinned the hills down to one or two plants, but I hate to pull out perfectly healthy seedlings. And so yet again I have too much zucchini. Will I ever learn my lesson?

Schonburg, Vienna

There have been other lessons I was slow to learn. Like taking chances. I could have gone to Europe while I was in high school, but I chickened out. I wouldn’t know anyone on the trip, and that was just too scary—even though it would have been nice to actually use the German I was studying. I did the same thing in college. The result: I didn’t make it to Europe until I was 66 years old. I gave in to fear other times, as well—giving up a volunteer position that would have taken me to a distant state after college. Now I regret that decision, thinking of the experiences I might have had.

I notice I’m not the only person who doesn’t seem to learn quickly. How many people get one speeding ticket and obey the law from that day forward? How many get drunk once and learn their lesson from the morning after? How many are quick to find new friends when their old ones lead them astray? Sadly, humans do not always learn from experience.DSC00753

Fortunately, too much zucchini lends itself to an easy solution. I have friends who are unable to grow gardens and gladly accept my excess produce. If only other mistakes were so easily corrected! However, there is hope. I married a man who likes adventure, and he helped me to move beyond my comfort zone. Raising our boys was an adventure that involved many new experiences, ones I would never have dared on my own.

zucchini2 (1 of 1)Those with more serious issues can also learn and leave their mistakes behind.  Faithful friends can support and admonish you as you try to change. Support groups abound for every kind of bad habit or addiction. Pastors and counselors can give advice and help. God is watching and listening, there to provide strength when needed. Mistakes do not need to be repeated in an endless cycle. If you reach out for help, the future can be different.

As for me, perhaps next year instead of five hills of zucchini, I will plant four—if my memory doesn’t fail me again. And—with God’s help—instead of holding back in fear, I will try to eagerly accept the adventures He has for me.

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dogwood leaves (1 of 1)Fall has arrived, and change is in the air. The heat of summer has passed, and rain has watered the parched ground. Today the sun is shining. October clouds have cleared away, and the sky is bright blue. An autumn breeze blows through my hair as I walk out to the garden to see what is left.daad bean leaves (1 of 1)

A handful of pole beans. Half a dozen over-ripe ears of corn. Some good-sized almost-ripe tomatoes, along with a generous number of cherry tomatoes—Sweet 100 and Sun Gold. But the bush beans are gone, and the prolific zucchini is dying back. The pumpkins and winter squash have been harvested, and their vines lie brown and shriveled across the dirt. The garden is fading, as it always does this time of year.

grapes (1 of 1)Yet around the garden, golden leaves waft down from the maples. The dogwood is gradually turning from green to red. Brightly-colored leaves stand out against the blue sky. Grape vines still carry batches of purple fruit. There is much beauty in this time of dying. And also much ugliness in this time of beauty.

yellow maple leaf (1 of 1)

 

For every golden leaf there is a brown, broken one. For every purple grape there is a rotten zucchini. For every blue sky, the remembrance of pouring rain—and more to come. I could look down and focus on the mud, the dead leaves, the empty garden, or I could instead focus on the colorful leaves, the fleeting blue of the sky, the delicious fruits of the season. What will my choice be?

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Cumulus clouds September.

As we edge toward autumn, change is in the air. The heat of summer slowly dies away, replaced by crisp, foggy mornings and cool breezes. Clouds roll in, sometimes huge, fluffy white mountains, other times layers of gray filled with rain.blackberry jelly and green beans

Leaves begin to turn color. We harvest the garden—plucking the last few ears of corn, a few fat cucumbers hiding under the leaves, red and golden cherry tomatoes, and, of course, zucchini, which is not yet ready to call it quits. Apples redden on the tree. The pantry shelves hold jars of beans, the freezer bags of corn. Blackberry jam and jelly await winter breakfasts. Our garden has done well.

Liberty applesA hush settles over the street, as children head off to school. I drink in the quiet and let it settle into my soul. September. Even the sound of it is soft and flowing, like the afternoon breeze as it rustles through the treetops. Like a treasure you hold, not in your hands, but in your heart.September sunset

And in the evening we stroll down the street as darkness falls earlier and the sun sets in a bright sky.

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Summer has ended, but nice weather lingers on. In my garden, that means tomatoes. The plants I put in late, due to a long, wet spring, have had time to grow and produce their best crop in years. The vines are like a Christmas tree hung with red globes.

Peas are a distant memory, the pole beans were recently pulled out, and half the corn stalks lie bent to the ground, presumably demolished by a hungry raccoon family. Even my prolific zucchini plants have wilted during the cold of night. But the tomatoes spill out across each other and into the aisle, dotted with orange and red rubies that glitter in the sunshine. I munch on sun-warmed cherry tomatoes as I pick my crop. What could be tastier?

Tomatoes pile up on my kitchen counters. I slice them for sandwiches, put out bowls of cherry tomatoes for snacks, add them to recipes, but I can’t use them all up. So I pull out the canner, dusty on the back shelf, and get to work. And finally those juicy, red tomatoes fill pint jars, ready to brighten my pantry with their bright colors. Summer in a jar.

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The years just keep rolling along, and spring arrives, more or less on schedule, about this time every year–and about six months earlier or later in the southern hemisphere–moving around the world and never holding still for long. We get a couple of days of warm weather, and everyone is out mowing lawns, some for the first time this year. Pollen is in the air, fertilizing trees and flowers, bringing sneezes and congestion to the allergy-prone. Smiles spring up with the flowers and sunshine.

Dreams of vegetable gardens and flower beds stir in my head. Perhaps this year I will keep the garden weeded. Perhaps this year I will get everything planted on time. Perhaps this year…

In the springtime, all is possible. Soon enough reality will set in, and I will remember how hard it is to keep up with flowers and vegetables and, most of all, weeds. But for today, I prefer to hold on to my fantasies. Springtime is a time for dreaming.

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October Corn

We ate the last of our homegrown corn—fresh from the garden, kernels the color of sunshine and cumulus clouds. I have never eaten fresh corn on the cob in October before. What a strange year this has been!

 Usually the corn is planted in May, or the very start of June at the latest. This year we visited our son in Japan in early May. When we came home, we were met by rain, rain that continued through May, through much of June, right up to July. We always joke that good weather in western Oregon begins July 5th. This year it was actually true. We planted the corn on June 23rd, when the clouds cleared for a few brief days.

 The type of corn we generally plant, Sugar Dots, sprouts well in cool soil—perfect for May/early June planting in our area. It does not sprout as well in late June. And so it came up here and there with long bare patches between that later filled with grass and weeds. And as it slowly grew, we wondered if corn on the cob would even make it to the dinner table this year.

 Then came September, warm and beautiful for the most part, and October with few of its usual rains. Ears grew and swelled on the stalks, as the peas and beans nearby died off. And finally—ripe corn! Not enough to freeze, but enough for several nice meals. And it was very good!

What garden surprises have you experienced this year?

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Weeds

Weeds. Every year I try to keep them under control in my garden. Almost every year I fail. I think there was one year, back in the 1990’s somewhere, when I actually conquered the weeds. I laid out thick layers of newspaper between the rows of vegetables and piled straw on top. I diligently pulled up weeds within the rows while still small. The vegetables grew strong and healthy without those nasty weeds to eat up their nutrients and drink their water. My garden looked like something out of Organic Gardening magazine with those neat straw walkways and thick green rows of veggies. I loved to go outside and stare at my beautiful garden.

This year I tried. I did lay out rows of newspaper and straw–in most of the rows. Unfortunately, the newspaper was not thick enough, and grass grew right through it. And I didn’t keep up with the weeds and grass within the rows. Now I have high arching grass stalks thick with seeds sticking out from the rows and filling the aisles between. A few blackberry vines have crept through the fence to mix with the weeds in those areas I didn’t get covered. No magazine centerfold for this year’s garden!

Other weeds have invaded my life recently, weeds just as tough to eradicate and more dangerous. We know them by the name of cancer, or carcinoma, if you want to get fancy. I take better care of my body than my garden, but they managed to sneak in anyway–fortunately, in small numbers. With the help of doctors, nurses, and other support people, I plan to pull every one of these weeds and not allow them back in. This gardening venture should be quite a learning experience, but I do not plan to write more about it on this blog. I have begun a second blog to document this journey and the spiritual lessons I learn through it. If you wish to share that journey with me, feel free to drop by at http://stormsparrow.wordpress.com/. I welcome the company!

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