Summer at the monastery for me means GARDENING! And by gardening, I mean planting seeds in long, neat rows. I mean eagerly watching those tiny seeds quickly turn into lettuce or slowly turn into big orange pumpkins. I mean hoeing and weeding in the warm sun while I happily jam along to tunes on my headphones. I’m talking about fresh rhubarb, yummy beans, smooth squash, sharp radishes, beautiful carrots, flavorful cantaloupe, shiny cucumbers, crisp peppers, and plump tomatoes.
Okay… so the above lines are actually a fantasy! The reality of the monastery garden the last few years has been a little different. Sister Gerard (Sister G) and I take care of the garden as a side-note to our busy lives.
This is how it really goes:
–We make grand plans to plant our seeds in neat rows, keeping careful track of where we plant everything. A week later we cannot remember where anything is, and so all summer we are continuously surprised by what comes up. Our resulting garden motto is: “By their fruits you shall know them.” (Matthew 7) This quote was uttered so often by Sister G after finding a stray carrot in the radishes or a watermelon in the lettuce bed that it is now etched permanently on the monastery garden sign.
–I start out the summer doggedly attacking the weeds. I truly enjoy getting down in the dirt and weeding in the hot summer sun. However, after too many days in a row not spent in the garden, the weeds eventually become so heavy and thick that I give up, and the garden becomes a mini-jungle that visitors step into at their own risk. Sometimes I even help out the weed cause – one summer I found a crop of “new” plants in the garden that I watered and took care of for weeks before I realized they were actually weeds…
-Every year we try planting tomatoes and peas. Every year we fail. It seems that we can grow anything but those two particular vegetables. In terms of tomatoes, we’ve encountered everything from worms to top rot to deer attacks. Despite planting dozens of pea plants over the years, we average about a measly four to five peas per summer, exactly enough to feed about half a person for one meal. And don’t get me started on the time we planted sweet pea plants, thinking that it was a variety of peas we hadn’t tried before – turns out that sweet peas are not food at all, but are actually flowers…who knew?
But despite the frustrations of our garden, there is something really satisfying about planting tiny seeds and eventually producing an edible food. Every year, we do manage some success. This year our rhubarb is flourishing; I have been picking great tubs full of it every three days or so. So far I’ve made rhubarb scones, coffeecake, muffins, pancakes, pie, bars…next up is rhubarb pizza!
And there are the pickup rides. Since our garden is down the road a little ways from our monastery, Sister G drives our pick-up when we need to load heavy stuff – and I get to ride in the back. As Sister G speeds down the hill, I hang on for dear life and let my hair fly in the wind. I am always taken over by a great feeling of pure happiness on these rides as I cruise along with heaps of garden produce – the literal fruits of my labor – surrounding me on all sides.
Every year, Sister G and I plant seeds and hope for the best. We water and fertilize and weed in the hopes that strong sturdy roots will form to support our plants. As I near my final profession date, I sometimes feel like one of those garden seeds. With a little nudge from God, I planted myself at this monastery back in 2006 and hoped for the best. I have had setbacks along the way (and have had to pull out some big weeds!), but in general I have grown and flourished under the watering and loving care of my community of Sisters. I have developed sturdy Benedictine roots that can withstand anything – there is no wind or flood or pesky deer strong enough to harm me! Now if only I was as confident about our garden plants…guess I better pick up that hoe and get back to weeding!