We hopped into our magic school bus and trucked up to Athens to see Aunt Noelle, horticulturalist and herbalist at the UGArden, the University of Georgia's sustainable teaching farm.
After a tour of a farm, we spread out our picnic quilt near the mulberry tree that was heavy with ripe berries. We picked them off the ground and ate them fresh, the darker the better Noelle told us, the blood-red juice stained our fingers and clothes. It pooled and dripped off our hands in a gleefully worrisome way. We were happy.
Noelle, stretched on the blanket, with her wide-brimmed straw hat perched on her head, her wellington boots, stained with mulberries, carefully stowed off the blanket, recited with relish the upcoming seasons of fruit in the UGArden, "Mulberry season is my favorite, they're like a blackberry mixed with a raspberry but without the seeds. As soon as the mulberries are done, it's blueberries, then raspberries, then blackberries, then watermelons, and then when the watermelons are finally done, it's time for the muscadines. And then comes the apples. I rarely eat out of season. It's amazing."
Noelle has an intimate relationship with the food she eats, she watches most of it grow from seed. Before we left, she commanded me to take some greens home: mustard greens, romaine, arugula, they spilled out of her arms, she could barely contain them. "Please, take some. We can't eat all this. We have an abundance. The students are gone now that the semester's done and we've already donated all meals-on-wheels wanted. I hate to see this all go to waste."
The closer I get to the ground, the more I learn about the nature of God. The life-death-rebirth cycle of the soil, the laws of sowing and reaping, how things come in seasons.
The abundance of one season doesn't last for the next. The only mulberries in watermelon season have been preserved, fundamentally changed in some way.
What was good in one season, isn't in the next unless the best parts of it have been boiled down, added to other ingredients, carefully and thoughtfully preserved.
Too often I try to hang on to the abundance of a waning season without knowing how to preserve the goodness of the fruit. I don't accept that the goodness must change form to stay with me during the winter. I fight the change of the season without recognizing that something new is coming up, coming in, ready for harvest.
Last season of life for me was one of practicing gentleness and generosity to those closest in proximity to me, often at great cost. Then the season changed and I was lost for a while, I found myself drained and anxious and I didn't know why exactly.
Noelle took me to the herb drying room where she makes medicinal teas with her students that she markets around campus and the local community. She has jars upon jars of petrified herbs and flowers that she mixes together to make healing teas, sometimes she distills them down to the essential oils to make beauty sprays.
There's potency in the preserved abundance. To achieve that potency takes hard work and so many dishes.
That anxious and empty season for me wasn't anxious and empty really, it was tedious and full of hard work. It was the preparation to preserve the abundance of the previous season of generosity and gentleness: it was the internal equivalent of the repetitive washing and drying of the almost spent fruits and flowers, the furious dish-making, the process of changing the fresh to dried to sealed and stored, ready to be used out of season. Different now, but still delicious, more powerful, more nourishing.
Noelle is eternally washing dishes.
Too often I don't take time to prepare to preserve the abundance of a season. Without intention, the plentiful harvest wilts around me and I only access a fraction of it's goodness in the future seasons to come.
There's a rhythm to the life of a garden, the work of it. A time for everything. Seasons.
Each season of life a brings different abundance of love, goodness, kindness, compassion, self-control, I want to learn how to preserve the harvest for use when it's needed. I want to mourn each season as it passes, letting the plants flower and die in their time. I want to celebrate the new one coming. I want to hold loosely bitterness of the passing season while clinging tightly to the preserved sweet bounty that I've worked hard to prepare.
I want to be well-stocked for winter.