Growing Through an Economic Winter
I have a little garden plot in the alley behind our house where I try to grow a few vegetables throughout the year. In the Lubbock winter, it is hard to grow much of anything, but I usually have some lettuces struggling and beets or garlic maturing for a spring harvest. I discovered, by accident, that spinach can weather temperatures into the teens, though it grows mighty slow during the winter. I had tried planting a few rows of it early one December and after a particularly hard freeze, most of it looked wiped out. I thought I'd just let it die and replant come March.
But there were about eight little seedlings that somehow survived. So instead of digging them up, I ignored them—thinking they'd die as the others had. But they held on and when spring arrived, they took off, those eight little plants. We ate spinach for weeks, even giving some away to friends.
During the cold, dry, and less sunny days of January and February, those spinach plants were establishing their roots, entrenching themselves and building below the surface. When the hard season was over and the spring rains and sunny March and April arrived, they burgeoned with the leaves fatter and greener than I'd grown in the best weather.
No soldier goes directly into battle without training and teaching, though he may be eager to defend his country. No lawyer appears before the high courts before she serves as a clerk and works smaller cases, little by little establishing a foundation in jurisprudence. And even if a soldier, lawyer, or a person in any other profession “pays his dues” and “proves himself,” there will be setbacks, periods that don't seem exactly fruitful.
But say your work does flourish; it could be too early and another cold snap could wipe you out. Last year on the high plains, we had a warm late winter when the trees went into early bloom followed by a hard freeze. There was no fruit, no pecans to be found in Lubbock or the surrounding counties.
As a writer in academia under the pressure of “publish or perish,” I only need go through a time when the words are not coming or are not getting published, and I begin to think that I'm in trouble. But even when it seems I might not be productive, I know deep down that if I'm careful, the words, sentences, and the wide-reaching roots of language are there under the surface, maturing, readying themselves for that time of harvest. I submitted my book to publishers and contests for ten years before it was finally published. My second followed four years later. My third collection of poems is following only a year after. I was working (mostly!) all along, establishing those roots below the surface, and the fruit of my labors finally came to the point of harvest. And now? Winter may be around the corner, so I need to recognize that periods of growth come in cycles. If the season is right, I am ready to plant again, do what I can, and let God and nature do their more powerful work.
Are you in a physical or spiritual or economic winter? Is the weather of your workplace an inhospitable climate where little can grow? Do what you can but realize that there are things beyond your control. Weather, for instance. Hold on. Pray. Let your faith establish itself, and let your “roots” go deeper, realizing that it might not be time to flourish. Let suffering and patience produce perseverance producing character producing hope and a bounty that you and others can feast on.