I don my gardening shoes and gloves and toe shovel and hoe out to the wilderness that used to be my garden. As I hack away at the weeds and brittle leftovers of tomato plants, I think, “Is it worth it?”
Once upon a time, a man and woman lived as caretakers in a garden ripe with mangoes and tomatoes and figs. I try to conjure up an image of cultivation without snails and squirrels and rabbits attacking my plants, without weeds demanding my constant attention, without the threat of too much water cracking my tomatoes and not enough withering the plant. Did Adam and Eve sing the fruit into bloom?
Then they planted disobedience and reaped the curse, and nature and humanity wars against each other. Disconnected from the Gardener, creation reels toward destruction.
My three vegetable beds mar the view of my neighbors when they awaken and pull their blinds to wink “Good morning” at the sun. And when I wash my dishes in the evening and peer out the window, the beds remind me of my failures, of the ruthlessness of the curse, of the fasting that marks a life disconnected from the Gardener.
I whack the hoe into the ground and yank at another glob of tall grasses. I could be cuddled up in my favorite chair reading as the kids nap, scratching out a few words of a short story, or playing Words with Friends. Though I didn’t plan it, clearing out the debris and deadness becomes part of my Lenten practice. Gardening is more tedious than I imagined it would be. Somewhere in my third trimester in the Texas August, weeding and pruning no longer seemed like viable practices. Neither nature nor human wins in this mess. Some days I want to tear out the beds, sod the ground, and forget the whole thing. Maybe it’s enough to buy our vegetables and fruit from the local farmer’s market. Then I remember the salads we enjoyed from the garden (and, let’s be honest, the bragging rights of serving guests squash I harvested that morning). Lord have mercy.
A few generations after the first man and woman, the curse had propagated throughout creation, the caretakers of earth destroying their charge in their descent into wickedness. God pruned and weeded, destroying the destroyers in a great flood but leaving remnants of creation. It was not enough. The weeds grew again, choking out life. Christ have mercy.
An earthworm flickers from the weed I just exhumed and wiggles back into the soil of the raised bed. A promise of life. I clear out the bramble and detect the scents of oregano, basil, and mint. Under mounds of dead grass, I discover remnants of the herbs. They’ve gone feral, but I think I can prune and save them. Lord have mercy.
In another garden, another man sweats and bleeds from the curse. He wars against the death that separates, and He wins. Gardens and cities and maybe even suburbs redeemed. Or at least being redeemed. A victory planted but not yet reaped. A promise of life, of things to come. We watch seedlings break through the ground and await harvest time.
My back aching, my arms itching, I load the refuse into the wheelbarrow and cart it to the trash. It is finished. The beds don’t look as clean as when my husband first built them and we filled them with new soil, but the soil has matured with every batch of manure and compost added. And the mint and oregano from past years have gotten a head start (though, sadly, I’ve lost the basil). In my garden I plant the seeds of Christ’s victory and reclaim my legacy as caretaker.
The story ends at harvest time in a place where garden meets city. God bestows glorified bodies on humans and remakes earth so that the tree of life blossoms all year in the heart of the city. Heaven returns to earth. Our home, condemned and foreclosed, taken over by mildew and bad taste — vinyl floored over hardwood — is restored to its original beauty and then some. We sit down to a table laden with fruit and vegetables cultivated by the Gardener Himself, and we feast.
This week, I’ll go to my favorite gardening shop, load up on the necessities, and my son and I will drop carrot seeds and onion bulbs into the soil. We’ll dig our hands into the dirt, and I’ll show him earthworms and tell him the story about a Gardener and His creation.
Heather A. Goodman spends most of her day driving miniature trains across her carpet, sponging off spit-up from her collar, and dancing to The Muppets and VeggieTales. Her fiction has been published in Ruminate Magazine, Relief Journal, Generate Magazine, and other online journals, and her short screenplays have been produced for film festivals and churches. Her nonfiction has been published in various print and online magazines and blogs. She lives outside of Dallas, Texas, with her husband, two children, and a few imaginary friends.