Ants, Grasshoppers, and one last Rant about Squirrels

I took the garden down this morning, picking all the green tomatoes and little peppers left to make into green tomato pickles (see Thoughts for Food later on how this goes!) It’s a bit melancholy to pull the plants, even those still healthy, and toss everything away. But there’s no chance now that new fruit will set, with nights into freezing temperatures (SW Ontario, fairly mild, so northern friends have already done this and seen the first snow.)

Once it’s done, though, it looks so clean and fresh, and with a little raking and mulching, ready for next spring. Not that it was a particularly good garden spot, too many trees, too much flooding from runoff from the roof, and of course, the everlasting squirrels.

Some people, many of us raised in rural families with traditional values, are the ants of society. We anxiously stockpile food through the summer, canning and freezing and maybe dehydrating. We watch the garden with an eye to the future, because we intend for today’s produce to last into next year. This goes beyond mere thriftiness. It may be some deep-seated ancestral memory or brain pattern adaptation or whatever we are calling it these days. Maybe it’s just common sense. Tomatoes and pears do not grow over the winter, so save some for later. Good little ant, storing seeds underground.

Grasshoppers flit about all through the warm months, revelling in the sun and sweet breeze, feasting while the feasting is good. Someone else will have enough set aside, right? There’s always the supermarket…Of course, grasshoppers have a good old time, lay a lot of eggs to winter over, and then die. Ants survive the winter by going deep and allocating food supplies to last until spring. But maybe the ants don’t have much fun.

We can get a little too antish, after all. We’ve got our gardening noses stooped down to the ground, picking out weeds and insects, and never lift our heads to enjoy the sunlight and green canopy above. We scurry our harvest inside, get it put up in jars and laid down in root cellars, and we barely stop long enough to gather a handful of wild strawberries to eat while they are still sun-warm. (You know those U-Pick farms? They must have to figure in a certain weight of produce consumed in the field that never makes it to the scales. I think I should get a discount there – I pick fast, clean, and with industry, never sampling the produce. Ingrained reflex from picking potatoes as a kid – “Get those rows picked up, girls!”)

The Lord decreed the sabbatical year, the Seventh Year. Israel was to let the fields lie fallow, and not even pick the wildings, leaving those for the poor. The people of God were to trust that the Sixth Year harvest would be sufficient for two years. Maybe the sabbatical year was no year of great feasting, but it should be a year of gratitude and extra prayer. The Jubilee Year was a sabbath of sabbaths (seven times seven) and in the Jubilee year not only were the sabbatical precepts called for – slaves freed, debts forgiven – but all land that had passed from its original family was returned. Land was not sold in perpetuity. No one could amass huge estates and pass them on to future generations; the land was redistributed once a generation. That was the idea, anyway. Although decreed by the Lord and no mistake about that, humans worked out ways to get around it. Looking for ways to circumvent the Way of the Lord seems to me to be just saying, “I don’t believe any of that God stuff, anyway.”

Jesus Christ did not free us from the Jubilee. He declared it as perpetual, that the kingdom is realized, and that everything we receive will be directly from the hand of God. (As it always was!) More importantly, debt forgiveness was to be perpetual: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those in debt to us.” Yes, literally “debt” in Greek, literally owing something to someone else. Forgiveness is to be radical, both of real debt and sinful debt. Forgive others, so that the Father in heaven will forgive you. Think of the implications if we tried to live this way!

We had a poor harvest this year, mainly because of rodents. Neighbours think the squirrels are cute little outdoor pets, and encourage them. I see them as devastating tree rats with fluffy tails. They stole new tomatoes and peppers, chewed on plants, uprooted peas and seedlings. I had enough beautiful healthy plants that I should have had jars of tomatoes put up by now. We will probably see a few green tomatoes ripen inside, and the rest made into about two quarts of pickles. We can’t expect to survive the winter on that!

So we will have to trust in the Lord’s favour. Maybe it’s not so hard for us anyway, living in an affluent country that grows more food than its people can use, having neighbors and friends and family to help us if things get tough – as Christians should. But what of those people who don’t have a social safety net, whose own neighbors and family are as destitute as themselves? Aren’t they our neighbors, too? Aren’t they included in the great Jubilee of the Lord?

Yes, they are, and if we wealthy North Americans don’t do something about this soon, we will have a lot to answer for on the Day of Doom. (Doom is the Anglo-Saxon word for Judgement, and don’t forget it!) Are we more concerned with buying peanuts for the backyard squirrels than we are for providing lentils, rice, fruit and clean water to children in sub-Sahara Africa or cyclone devastated India?

Our Lord gave us some pretty clear instructions on how to live in this world; it’s about time to get them out and start following them again.


Gardening and God

Some years the garden is a marvel to behold, a miniature Eden, full of fruit in season, lots of it, plenty to eat, plenty to share, plenty to store for the long winter. The plants blossom like girls in party dresses, the stalks grow like twelve-year-old boys in new jeans. The sun is right, the rain is right, the breeze is right, and the varmints stay away.

I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those years.

Something goes wrong every year. I got the garden in late because we moved to a place where there was no garden spot and we had to prepare the soil; the spring was cold and wet; the summer was cold and wet; the fall was cold and wet. Deer/raccoons/mice/squirrels/sheep/chickens ate the seedlings and fruit. The frost came late/early. Cutworms moved into the neighborhood. Some helpful person picked all the beans/peas/tomatoes before they were ready. Well, you get the picture.

This year we had beautiful plants – tall, strong stalks and lots of blossoms. But the fruit didn’t set, except for a few peppers. Then the peppers disappeared. Squirrels had decided that our garden was an early morning snack stand, and the baby tomatoes and little peppers were just vanishing. I finally put down soap chips and dog hair, and they have stopped trying to take everything, but that might be because the tomato plants got too tall to be raided! We did have some really good peppers and the herbs, except the parsley, have done well. So it isn’t a total loss, and it does look really nice.

God made squirrels, too. I like squirrels in their proper environment – that is, outside my garden. They may be close relatives to rats, but I like some rats. Rats are smart and funny. Squirrels may not be very bright, but they are amusing. (I won’t mention their wars in our backyard, though. They can be nasty with each other.)

We had counted on homegrown food to help offset the grocery store costs. We didn’t get much. But so far, God, in His bounty, has provided. We pray that He continues to provide. I guess the big issue is, does our consumption mean someone else won’t have enough? Does our Standard American Diet deprive someone else of food?

This is part of our pacifism, that our actions do not harm someone else. We have found out that some things we enjoy are very costly in the distribution of food to others. Beef, for instance. Grain and water go to feed cattle that become hamburgers and supermarket steaks. That grain is desperately needed to feed people in impoverished, drought-stricken countries. Beer is another environmentally expensive choice. It uses a large amount of grain and water, too. And the shipping costs are high – fuel that could be saved or utilized in more practical ways.

I used to buy ethanol for my car years ago, then it dropped off the market. Now it’s back as bio-fuel. It’s made from corn, mostly. This is not really a good alternative to petroleum. It ties up acres of productive farmland so we can drive cars. Do I need to say that people are starving, people who would gladly eat the corn we are grinding up into car-fuel?

Remember the parable of the talents? The master of the estate gave his stewards certain amounts of money to invest and manage, and when he came back, two of the stewards had made good use of the money. But the third had buried his in the ground, and was punished for wasting what his master had entrusted to him. Is our selfish use of the vast resources of North America the same thing, burying what God has entrusted to us in our own desires? Shouldn’t we be investing the bounty of the Lord in the Lord’s people, the poor?