I must be quite a sight for the neighbors.
A lone figure in a maroon winter jacket over a billowing white summer skirt — I was only going to be a few minutes outside — with garden gloves and shears to complete the elegant getup.
I’m pulling up last year’s old wizened cosmos plants to make room for this year’s garden, tugging little rooted tufts out of the ground with abandon and letting them spray tiny clods of earth over my shoes, glad to finally clear the plot.
It’s a sunny February afternoon; I’m only four months late to this task.
The ground is frozen, but the dirt still sends up a faint smell of freshness, of the promise of green growing things. One of the crisped salvia plants actually reveals a pistachio-colored heart, and a word from The Secret Garden floats back to me: Wick. Alive. Lively. Life still lingers here, sleeping.
I gather and snip the dry stalks into manageable lengths and toss them in the garden cart, and draw a long breath of satisfaction when the small plot is clear. Though the promise of snow hangs over the next few months yet, I’ve been laying my plans like a woman ripe and round with expectant hope: some other warm day, I’ll clear the wood chips, pull up the stepping stones, make ready this ground-cradle for tiny seeds and seedlings.
Today, I decide, I’ll finish by taking a hoe to the old carrot rows.
My return to this corner of the yard is anything but victorious; after discovering that we’d planted most of our vegetables in a spot destined to have 80% shade in late summer and autumn, and pulling up baby-sized Danvers carrots after months in the ground, I unceremoniously relinquished the rest to the winter and its elements.
The once-feathery tops are gone now, and the mulch is the barest whisper of a blanket upon the cemented dirt. I don’t know what a stunted and half-frozen carrot looks like, but it will no doubt look better in February than in May, so I scrape the hoe over the first blighted clump of stems.
It’s the sheer brilliance of the orange circle that startles me.
Two-toned, perfectly round, juicy.
I stare mesmerized for a few seconds before I drop into a crouch and try to free it from the caked earth. The carrot can’t be pulled up, so I pour a little water over it and scrape around the circle with my hands. Once it’s out, I rake my fingers sideways to see if there are others, laughing to myself and silently saluting my imagined Mrs. Kravitz as I scrabble about in February dirt.
Soon I’ve found them all: most of them diminutive but stout, like some kind of fingerling variety of carrot, and the surprise of the discovery still plays at the corners of my mouth.
Hidden heirlooms of summer, uncovered in an icy month. As if it is the most natural thing to do, I hold my full hands out to my Father to thank Him for these few minutes of delight.
An unexpected harvest, I say to myself, turning to go — and then — my eyes sting suddenly from more than the chill in the wind.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Gal. 6:9, NIV)
Outside this little garden, there are other harvests I await that seem to yield so little, though I’ve tended them for months, years. I know I’m not alone in pleading for a few dear souls to invite Christ further in, for cracks in the darkness enveloping friends, for justice, for healing, for help.
The brunt of long obedience often wears us thin. Sometimes the ground seems deaf and dead; the work is grueling, and our knees are blackened with faltering. Our prayers wet and stain the earth and still — no answer springs up. It does not seem bearable that winter should last so long.
But underneath the brittle stillness, the root of our hope is wick:
Christ Himself is a shoot flourishing out of the razed stump of Jesse.
And God is and has always been in the business of long-awaited harvests, of trees bearing fruit in drought — of Spring. More than anything, I’m comforted to remember that He knows how endless winter can seem.
“…do not give up.”
I take the carrots inside, display them to my astonished children. The thinner ones are dry, but I peel and slice the thicker roots, and hand Lucy and Little Jo each an orange coin. They grin as they crunch into the pieces, taken again with wonder to be eating something that grew only a few steps from our kitchen. “It’s so good,” Lucy says approvingly. And it is. Later I read that a carrot in winter is sweeter than its summer counterpart, that the harsher season and the state of the soil lead to a concentration of its flavor.
A week later, I pull out our gardening plans and ask Lucy and Little Jo what we should grow this year. Though I have long since crossed carrots off our list, telling myself it will be cheaper to buy them, I’m not at all surprised when the girls sing them out as their first suggestion.
“Yes.” I add the extra row to our catalog of vegetables, smiling a little at how a tiny crop can bring nourishment beyond my expectations.
Yes. I believe we will.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
– Psalm 126:5-6, NIV
First read years and years ago, in a particularly difficult season of a “long harvest.”