It’s October and the Pacific Northwest’s notorious depressing grey clouds and rainy deluges are just peeking over the horizon. Wet weather threatens the vibrant multicolored beauty of our West Coast fall and I’m tempted to burrow deep into my blankets and spend the rest of the winter snuggled safely in the cozy familiarity of my bed. It doesn’t help that deadlines and responsibilities are looming. Sunday school lessons need to be compiled, groceries need to be gotten, piano lessons paid for, schedules coordinated, aging parents attended to and immigration documents processed.
I wish I could flick the worries away like a mosquito. But God didn’t make it that easy and I probably wouldn’t thrive on an easy road anyway. So instead of burrowing deeper inside, I utter a prayer of thanksgiving and plunge into the day, trusting that the God who allows the storms to come is the same God who will shelter me through.
If it were still summer, attacking a new day would be much more painless. But fall has arrived in all its glory. I know I must trust that God knew what He was doing when He designed the four seasons. My time in the garden will now consist of raking leaves instead of watching things grow. It’s a season when living things die and dead things decompose. But in breaking down, dead things release potential for new life. My worm boxes, of all things, have taught me this simple healing lesson.
The little red wrigglers just keep going, no matter what the season is outside of their box. Regardless of turmoil or stagnation, destruction or construction in my life, in my family, in my community, or in society at large, my worms don’t care. History keeps marching on and my little guys just keep doing what they are doing, burrowing through garbage, eating bacteria, making dirt.
I can ignore them for copious amounts of time, and they will be okay. I can feed them a steady diet, and they will be okay. I can visit them every day, anxiously peering into their box to make sure they’re getting that perfect balance of greens and browns, darkness and humidity... and they’ll be okay. I can leave to go on a two week vacation and not crack their box open once, and they’ll be okay. They’re not needy. And they’re always productive. They are a rare find, these loyal little companions.
I didn’t discover the virtues of gardening until my late twenties and early thirties. Before then, I thought it was a thing for older people, or a thing for hipsters. I suppose I’m somewhere in between - an admirer of hipster style, a shunner of hipster ethos, but really just an aging person who has come to recognize the value of soil, dirt, earth and its perfect symbiotic relationship with the cycles of death and life. Because we’re all aging, aren’t we?
My daughter once showed me a clip from her Owl magazine, enlightening its readers to how contact with certain bacteria in the soil triggers the release of serotonin in our brains. The smell of soil actually has a calming effect. I’d like to wax eloquent on how it has been scientifically proven that gardening makes you happy. But sometimes it’s nice not to analyze. It’s nice to just be. And when I can relish just being, my brief escapades in the garden give me a glimmer of what God must have had in mind when He first put Adam and Eve in a garden.
So back to my worms. They quiet me down. In some quirky, right way, they give me a bit of an anchor. Regardless of me, whether I succeed or fail, live or die, my worms will do what they are meant to do. They will turn dead matter into useful nutrients. At some point in time, some plant out there will eventually flourish because my worms did what they they were supposed to do.
When things are spinning out of control, as things are apt to do, my soul is temporarily restored to order when visit my worms. So I’m on winter’s ominous doorstep. But I’m also viscerally here, in the midst of autumn. I step out into the crisp fall air onto my kitchen porch. I bend down, small spade in hand. I lift the lid, toss in some newspapers, coffee grinds and vegetable peelings. A familiar waft of earthy but good decomposition drifts up to my noise. The worms wriggle away from the light. I gently stir away, much as one would fold flour into a muffin batter. My scope of vision is limited to a bucket full of worms and compost. And for a brief moment, everything is okay.
5 Reasons to Start Your Own Garden
Julia Cheung is a cultural analyst and journalist of relationships, always on the lookout for stories of beautiful misfits. She lives in Vancouver BC with the loveable motley crew of her pastor husband and two preteen children. She is a bundle of antitheses, a lover of truth, a teller of tales, a too often emotional egoist and a fervently curious anti-narcissist. You can find her online at wifeinredemption.com.
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