The Last Harvest

The year is winding down to a close. How did that happen? Where does the time go? Another year, rapidly wrapping itself up. Parts of this post would have been better a month ago, but they are sentiments I wanted to share after my hiatus this fall. It has been a year of change, struggle, blessings, joy, and so much else.

Christmas is tomorrow, and it will be the first Christmas without Grandma. Leading up to Grandma passing away in April, and ever since, there has been the anticipation of impending change. As long as Grandma was with us, we had a home here, but as often happens in situations of family property, the property will need to sell, and our home here will be gone. That’s a fact I try not to dwell on, and the LORD has graciously given me a peace about that, which years ago I never expected. But whether we have another 8 months or 2 years here, the feeling of settledness isn’t there. I know change is on its way.

Through much of this year, there has been the faintly bitter, wistful knowledge of the inevitable “last time.” The sense that the wanderings on the property this summer or fall may indeed have been “the last time” I’d comb for wildflowers or ramble among our trees or scramble our hills. Putting up a Christmas tree in our cabin may have been “the last time” we’d enjoy that tradition here. I anticipate a sweet sorrow tomorrow on Christmas as we celebrate, quite possibly, “our last Christmas here.”

That knowledge is heavy with sadness, though also light with anticipation. God will provide. He always does. And it is always better than I could imagine.

But this heaviness has driven me to remember and to do and to be. There have been things I’ve deliberately done in order to not miss doing them one last time. For instance, when the apple trees down the hill from Mom and Dad’s were heavy with fruit this fall, I knew we needed to harvest them. It doesn’t take overly long to pick two trees worth of fruit, and we shook those apples down, filling a couple of good sized buckets. The apples were delicious, and became apple butter and apple crisp.

Picking apples from Grandpa’s trees likely was our last harvest from those trees. And it was the best harvest of all the years we’ve been here. God is so good.

As 2019 wraps up and comes to a close, I anticipate that this time next year I will have moved on, either elsewhere in the Black Hills or elsewhere altogether. My life here on the family property has been like an apple tree ripe, laden with fruit. The fruit setting on the tree are those memories and experiences that are shaping who I am, those blessings that God has set beautifully among the spreading branches, that have made up the beauty and color and flavor of my life here.There has been fruit that has grown and ripened that is specifically the result of living here, fruit ranging from the sweetness of deepened family relationships to the zesty excitement of a new direction vocationally. Had I been living elsewhere, without the backdrop of the Hills (particularly my little corner of it) to awaken my imagination to new possibilities, to spark ideas and creative pursuits, to challenge me physically, to grow me spiritually, or had I beem living in a place that drained me financially, I might be in a very different place from where I am now.

Life is like an orchard, each tree a different chapter in our lives. It is sad to think that this year here may be the last year to be harvesting from this beautiful little tree I’ve been enjoying for the last five years.But it has been a good harvest. A sweet harvest.

Surprised by bounty

IMG_2780.1lowrezThe sentiment this summer among gardeners was dismal. Just when we started thinking this year would be a great year for gardening, a storm whipped up out of nowhere and smashed everything. So we replanted and waited and got hopeful – And just when we started getting optimistic, another stormed whipped up out of nowhere and smashed everything. Again. It was a little discouraging. Who wouldn’t be dismal when their beautiful garden gets crushed by pea-to-golfball-sized hail, knocked down by straight-line winds, flooded out, shriveled in the heat, or burned by an early frost?

IMG_2755.1lowrezBut suddenly we’ve been surprised by our garden actually producing vegetables, in spite of the late (third or fourth) planting. I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but Sarah’s boss at Dakota Greens in Custer gave – gave – us upwards of 20 tomato plants, after the first planting was smashed, plus a variety of pepper plants. Such a gesture of generosity really floored me.

IMG_2749.1lowrezMom dutifully and eagerly planted them, regardless of how late in the season it was, content to have a garden that looked nice even if it didn’t ultimately grow anything. Someone else gave us a tomatillo plant which is now covered with fruit, other people gave us zucchini plants, and Mom replanted green beans.

IMG_2793.1lowrezBut what has been delightfully surprising is that not only did the plants that she planted late do well, but many of the plants that had gotten flattened or severely bruised in the hail are doing beautifully! Mom’s square-foot gardening boxes were planted thick with root vegetables, and we’re getting a bumper crop of turnips. I couldn’t help but marvel at the color – Such a rich, pure color. The basil and oregano likewise are plentiful, and many of the squash plants are laden.

What a welcome surprise! We have bags of green beans waiting to be blanched and frozen, lots of turnips, and herbs to freeze in oil. How exciting!

IMG_2805.1lowrezWe were out picking a few days ago, and Luna the Cat was darling to watch – He’s a weird cat with some really weird habits and weird quirks, but he is quite the charmer. He is uncannily companionable, although he prefers to not be snuggled, but he loves to be where the activity is. The whole time we picked, he was discovering the garden. He sneaked up on picked zucchini, prowled around in the green beans, got his little paws wet in puddles, and then discovered the leeks. He likes leeks.

Our tomato crop hasn’t been very good, since a late hail storm damaged a lot of the fruit, but the lack in tomatoes is more than made up for in the other bounty. We’re still pondering what we could use as a hail screen next year.

IMG_2741.1lowrezLesson for the day: Patience and persistence really does pay off sometimes. If Mom hadn’t insisted on replanting the third (or was it the fourth?) time and continuing the cultivate what survived, we wouldn’t be getting anything from the garden this year, except maybe some of the root crops and some squash. But we’ll have a little to put up in the freezer anyway, and plenty to cook fresh. Nothing quite makes a meal like home-grown produce.

Laura Elizabeth