We went for a walk on Boxing Day, the first day in a while we all were up for it. It’s been a difficult year and an especially difficult fall, complete with several viruses passed between us for the holidays. We’ve joked we still need holiday rituals to make our own and, since Oliver’s birth we’ve spent the last 3 Christmases and New Years Eves under the weather, the gallows humor has set in and we’re hoping we have haven’t established an ongoing tradition.
On our walk we went a different direction than usual and came upon some old walnut and cherry orchards that sit just below our land in the valley. I would guess many of the trees are at least as old as we are, and though the brush around them is obviously mowed from time to time and they’ve had some pruning here and there, neither orchard is thriving, clearly. My first thought was “What a shame. It’s so beautiful here. What great unrealized potential! It would only take a little more effort to see them really take off.”
I’m going to come back in the spring and seeing how the trees are getting on, because actually even though they’re not flourishing I can still see signs they bore fruit. There are also squirrel nests in the nut orchard and a hunter’s blind among the cherry trees, so various animals are finding their way and using the space there. Even if the orchard is not appreciated exactly how I think it should, am I prepared to show up from nowhere and impose my sense of what could or should happen each passing season among those trees? Could I really take on this project too?
It brings to mind an image my brother the arborist shared as I talked about this year:
“Trees are relatively easy to plant, but they take a LONG time to grow, and to bear fruit and thrive they need a fair bit of pruning, watering, and care over time that is at least partly outside the control of the planter. There is no way to predict weather conditions decades from now, nor the amount of water available, or sometimes even who will be around to take care of that tree. But, nevertheless, we plant seeds all the time in that space of not knowing, and it’s still a worthwhile effort. It is basically a prayer, and while we do our best to create favorable conditions for our plans, we have to recognize that the outcome is really beyond us. That’s where God comes in.”
Our lives have borne fruit this year, despite the challenges and occasionally frustration with the yield. We’ve also had great opportunities to share in the joy and bounty brought by others. We’ve not always taken the greatest care of ourselves this year but we’re still standing. We have also attracted various animals and friends to the farm, sometimes unexpectedly, and learned a lot about ourselves and what we need to thrive.
I don’t think we’re prepared to offer a final moral or complete pearl of wisdom for 2016, but let’s say no matter how you look at it, we planted seeds. We don’t know what 2017 will bring but we certainly hope it’ll be a little gentler…on ourselves, those around us and the world. Even if we do aim to be a little gentler though, the final result is really outside our hands. Our prayer for each of you all this time of year is that you also have a chance to walk through those unappreciated orchards in your lives. Accept that your first reaction might be one of judgment, harshness for the unmet expectations or unrealized potential, but then decide on what narrative you want to carry forward. What will you choose to plant in 2017? Perhaps we can all make that question a New Year’s tradition.