Oh, the abandoned abundance of nature. Autumn does not scatter leaves artfully here and there, but strews them in an eight-inch-deep blanket all the way to horizon. Spring is not a few petals drifting on the wind, it’s a snowstorm of color that lasts for weeks. Until it’s gone. And then, sometimes, there is nothing at all. For days, weeks, months on end. For all that we cleave to the storied ‘balance’ of nature, there is nothing moderate or balanced in the least about natural systems.
Right now there are violets clustered everywhere, their drooping heads hidden beneath their rapidly greening heart-shaped leaves. I gather them by the fistful, walking by the stream, and when I turn to go home I see that I have made not the slightest dent in the wash of purple. Next week, they will all be gone.
Last year a friend had a particularly productive winter squash patch and we feasted on squash all winter. Now our compost pile is overrun with squash seedlings, deep green and veined and beautiful, but doomed. They are competing for sun, water, space, and most will not survive. Beside the compost pile is a small mountain of grass clippings; I stalk the neighborhood with my wheelbarrow and cart them away. There is always more than I can carry this time of year. But a few months ago—nothing.
I’ve been letting this sink in today. Could it be that there is nothing wrong with me? Could it be that is is natural to have periods of deep, flowering, intense productivity followed by a fallow season? Could it be that there is no such thing as life balance? Could it be that the many strands of life I struggle to weave together, the writing and the herbal business and the graduate studies and the creation of women’s health clinics and the travel and the passionate love affairs and the music-making and the farm and the raising of stout, self-loving children, could it be that this weaving happens over the course of a lifetime, and never in a single day?
For now I just breathe in the possibility. And take in the overwhelming abundance of spring here in the temperate deciduous forest of my home. The leaves started as a trembling suggestion at the fingertips of the trees, shuddering and yellow, and then, suddenly, they flooded the branches, lush and green and wide as my palm, undulating like water in the wind. First the cherries bloomed, and then the dogwoods, and then at once azalea and forsythia and wisteria and lilac and violets, dandelion, chickweed lush enough to bite straight from the ground. I cannot bike anywhere without giggling, drunk on this heavy-handed beauty, grinning so wide that there is always pollen between my teeth.
The violets I gathered came home in a basket and wilted in the sun. I covered them with gently warmed grapeseed oil and left them to steep; the oil will take on their velvety purple color and absorb their emollient, soothing, anti-inflammatory properties. I like to make this oil into salve with beeswax and perhaps infused chickweed or plantain oil; or blend it with lavender-infused vinegar for a beautifully colored, delicious, healing vinaigrette.
I will set a jar aside for the lean times. And when they come, I will not fight them, though I have fought them all my life. I was taught that if life is not full, you damn well struggle until it is. If you are feeling low, why you paste a smile on until it passes. Famine cycles were always something to resist.
Yet now I can see that they serve a purpose. They are a visioning time, a retreat, built in, like the bleeding time of women’s moon cycle, like the sleeping time in the cycle of the day. They are NECESSARY. How, as an ardent student of natural systems, have I missed this for so long? The grass could not grow so lushly without months of winter rains nourishing its roots as it waited for the sun, fallow and brown. All of those squash seedlings crowding the compost pile will die–they are too eager. There is not enough space between them.
A dear friend of mine once observed me working in the garden for a day and remarked with characteristic tact “If I had to work as hard as you do, I’d throw myself under a bus.” Several years later I phoned her up and told her about the pleasure classes I was leading. She laughed until she cried. And then she signed all of her friends up.
Perhaps the balance is over a lifetime. Famine/feast, feast/famine.
- Chickweed pesto (sustainablegrub.wordpress.com)
- How to make Violet Syrup-a Wildflower Recipe (apothecarysgardenblog.wordpress.com)
- The Rise and Rise of Famine Farms (permaculturecottage.wordpress.com)