Saturday, August 20, 2011

In Gratitude for a Small Harvest by Alyssa Santos

Alyssa is another new member to my virtual village, but I'm so glad that she asked to be a part of this month's guest post extravaganza! She is a lovely writer and I am so glad that she contacted me about writing here. And while I'm a blueberry person myself, I thoroughly enjoyed her story about her pitiful strawberry patch and I think you will as well.


I like to fancy myself a gardener. I like to fancy myself a true blonde, too, but I’m dependent on the bottle now and this isn’t a confessional. This piece is about my strawberry patch.

I have been married almost twenty years and I have always kept my hands in the dirt and my garden dreams well fertilized with a sort of Martha Stewart field of dreams mentality. My usually logical and evenly measured mentality takes hiatus when I get to gardening every spring.

We were married just two months when we moved from bustling San Jose, California to my adopted hometown in northeast Washington State. My first plowed plot in 1992 was actually larger than our first house. Our rental home was just a speck measuring roughly ten by twenty feet and my garden bed was 15x25. That first rectangle of earth taught me about growing things and growing up. I learned that growing food was harder than it looked – actually everything about being a grown-up was sort of disappointing and difficult much like my row of spinach.

Since then I have discovered that like that first garden, life has been so much work and I’m not always up to the task. I’m not good at balancing the checkbook, I’m not good at scheduling play-dates when I can just shout, “Go outside and play with your brother”. And I’m not good at talking about sex with my teenage son. On the flip-side I have discovered that despite my mother’s predictions, I am a decent cook and I possess a talent to repeatedly surprise my family with four-course meals when I haven’t shopped for groceries for three-weeks.

I still struggle with the idea of becoming a grown-up but I have become a gardener. I get a kick out of searching still-frozen earth for spiked signs of life in stubborn winter. I sow freely alyssum seeds around my roses, I prune and weed and mow the grass. Yep, I actually love getting dirty by myself in the garden.
Aside from carrots and tomatoes, however, I have yet to get really adept at growing food. I am not capable of sustenance farming; on a better year, my skills might land us in the middle of the subsistence category.
My strawberry patch this year was pitiful and this sad reality is emphasized by the fact that strawberries are infamously easy to grow. I admit I’ve never had a bumper crop, but we have had enough to eat and enjoy with some to freeze for later use. Usually by the Fourth of July we’re picking and grinning, in a good, berry sort of way.

This year the harvest was pathetic, I thought as I watched my one daughter eat her one bowl of berries on the patio.

Later that night I walked down my garden pathway to the strawberry patch which I found camouflaged by leafy branches of other plants: raspberries (bullies really, but the fruit is so worth the work), garlic, phlox and aster (which had no business being that close to the berries) and a daylily that looked like it could hide a family of raccoons under it’s strapping leaves. I made a discovery.

My berries are squished.

They need their own bit of earth to stretch out roots and reach for sunshine. They need space to make sweet fruit. As their caretaker, it’s up to me to do something about that. We’ll move them into a raised bed of fragrant cedar so they can do what they’re supposed to do – produce delicious berries.

That’s another thing I’ve learned these past twenty years. Sometimes I need my patch cleared. I need to look around and pay attention to why my relationships aren’t yielding sweet returns. It doesn’t have to be a demolition or a total relocation, just some intentional attention to the friends and activities that populate my life. And, I can give myself permission to take the time to take care of myself. I can even take an extra season to recover and get used to my new surroundings so that producing fruit becomes a natural response to the conditions of my environment.

So I’ll wait another summer for my own strawberries. Come next June when I pop a freshly plucked berry in my mouth, I’ll give thanks not only for the fruit but also for a sweet lesson slowly learned.

Have you discovered that your life sometimes gets cluttered with things of the past, busyness and commitments or toxic relationships? Sometimes they just don’t produce any worthwhile thing. Have you had to clear your patch, take care of yourself and lend yourself permission to relocate or recover?


Alyssa does not like speaking about herself in third person, she finds it a thoroughly irritating practice. She loves birds, gardening, eating, cooking, telling people funny stories that make them laugh while eating, art-making, wordsmithing and studying. She is married to this guy who kissed her at a fraternity party and ended up being the perfect man for the job of loving her. He's Filipino and she’s not and their kids are a beautiful mix of all that they are, genetically speaking. They have four kids ranging in age from six to sixteen and they don't look like her at all. She is head-over-heels in love with them. She began blogging just over a month ago but she has been writing for years. She has been published locally and is looking forward to a couple of her pieces to appear in the Love is A Verb Devotional book due out in 2011.


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