Thursday, July 27, 2006

July 25, 2006 - Fallow

Next to our house – the Manse – we’ve got a little vegetable garden. At least, most summers we do.

This year’s different. At planting time this past spring, I was feeling too sick to go out and buy the usual tomato, bell pepper, eggplant and zucchini seedlings and press them into the soft soil. (This, despite the fact that Claire had gone out and hoed up the little plot for me.) Somehow, amidst all the other things occupying our minds last spring, the planting kept getting put off – until, one day, Claire and I looked at each other and acknowledged it was simply too late.

What we’ve got is a garden of grass instead. The groundskeeping guys who cut the church lawns have been simply running their lawnmower over our erstwhile garden patch. There’s nothing else to be done with it.

It’s just as well, I suppose, because I’m taking vacation later than usual this year, and we’ll be away for most of August. We’d miss most of the harvest, anyway. But even so, it feels unnatural to walk down the driveway and see only close-cropped grass where, in any other summer, the tomato plants would be hanging low by now, weighed down with little green globes just beginning to turn red.

The farmers have a word for our garden this summer. The word is “fallow.” I looked it up, and discovered something I didn’t know about that word. I’d always thought “fallow” described a field that’s simply been left unplanted for a growing season, to allow the soil to recover. But there’s a little more to it than that. A fallow field is one that’s been plowed, prior to letting it sit unplanted. It must be pretty hard for an old-time, organic farmer to go to all the work of plowing a field, knowing it will yield no harvest. But that’s all part of the farming game. It’s delayed gratification.

This is an appropriate parallel to my life this year. I’ve got lots of tasks and projects half-begun, and abruptly abandoned. Certain plots of ground were plowed, then allowed to sprout nothing but nature’s “volunteers.” I’ll never catch up on some of those projects. Hard as it is on my pride, I’ll just have to let them go.

Some of them can’t be abandoned, though. Some time-management expert or other once described the art of choosing which tasks to ignore as the art of “creative incompetence.” It’s a label that just may apply to our 2005 tax return. There was no way I was feeling well enough to get the information to our accountant for April 15, so he applied for an extension on our behalf. Now, the August extension date is looming, and I’ve still got mountains of bookkeeping to catch up on. If I’m going to get away for any vacation at all this summer, I may have to phone him and ask if there’s any way he can get the IRS to grant an extension on the extension.

I don’t feel very good about that. In fact, it’s going to make me feel rather incompetent to make the request. (That’s a little-known and seldom talked-about side effect of cancer: how the disease plays havoc with all sorts of mundane details of life – like personal finances.) Let’s just hope this particular incompetence of mine proves to be creative in some way.

There’s one thing that’s good about a fallow field, though. Plowing it up, then letting it sit for a season results in a stronger crop the following year. Just how that may be an outcome of my cancer experience remains to be seen...

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