Thursday, October 25, 2012

Seasonal Shifts, Time Crunches, and The Ant and The Grasshopper

Illustration by Milo Winter ( 1886-1956)

There are days when I wonder why I garden at all. As much as I like to think of gardening as a relaxing and healthy activity, it can often be a high pressure affair. Don't believe me?  Well, let me remind you about the ant and the grasshopper.

The two big time crunches: Spring and Fall

The fall crunch brings lots of chores.  Container plants
need to be heeled in and containers stored in the barn...
As spring approaches, you'll find me chomping at the bit to get out there in the garden and get my hands in the dirt.  I'll be sitting at the kitchen table with a stack of gardening books and seed catalogs that I've been poring over all winter, hoping that, any day, the earth will loosen up just enough for me to make that first plunge with the spade.  I can't wait. And then, suddenly the first daffodils are up and I am required to make a speedy transition from a more-or-less sedentary being, whose winter hobby consists mainly of lounging around in fleece-lined slippers sipping comforting herbal teas, into something resembling a jackrabbit on amphetamines.  The Spring crunch is on. Everything needs to be done...and all at once!

Before that first snowfall, perennials need
to be cut back, beds cleaned up and plants
like boxwoods wrapped and protected....
The Fall crunch comes about in a slightly different way but the result is the same. That is, I'm usually exhausted by the time things are over.  This year is a perfect example.  I have just come through another grueling gardening season where I've spent what seems like a couple of man years battling that same old invasive bindweed in the potager that keeps insisting "I'm a vegetable, too!"  I have waged a campaign of war on some of the most persistent insects I've ever seen, and spent an inordinate amount of labor and energy trying to convince a bunch of Zone 6 plants that they would be just as happy here in the colder Zone 5 climate of New Hampshire if they just put their minds to it.  

Snow fencing and winter deer fencing needs to be erected...
And now that all that heavy lifting is behind me, as the growing season comes to a close, gardening--dare I say it?--is beginning to seem enjoyable again.  If I believed in smiley faces, I'd put one right about here.  After all, the weather is gorgeous now, the temperatures are more suited to gardening than a sweat lodge ceremony, the lawn has stopped needing attention every ten minutes, the insects are gone, and the weeds have retreated and seem like a distant memory.

Animal shelters need to be mucked out
and readied for winter...
I have often said that, should I ever have the chance to make another garden from scratch, I would load it with nothing but end-of-season plants so that I would have time to sit a little and enjoy them.  And so, as I move further into autumn, I become accustomed to a saner, more relaxed pace.  I take more time to appreciate the beauty of things around me as I soak in the splendor of the fall foliage.  I might even take an afternoon hike to see what nature has to offer outside the garden gate. Hey, isn't gardening great? Another smiley face.  

Truckloads of hay need to be loaded
into the barn...
But very soon now, on one of these sunny fall afternoons, it will happen.  It usually starts with a noticeable chill in the west wind, or the unmistakable smell of woodsmoke in the air from the neighbor's chimney, or the distant, faint honking sound from a formation of migrating geese flying high over the field. All of which can have the effect of jolting me right out of my autumnal daydream. Wake up you idiot!  That first snowfall is right around the corner and things need to be done!  Gee, I should have known things seemed just a little too tranquil. Panic quickly ensues because this is the point where I'm always haunted by the fable of the ant and the grasshopper.

Now, I hate to admit that I'm a procrastinator but they don't call me Dilly-Dally for nothing. 

Feet need to be washed and hooves trimmed...
Many experts say that procrastination is caused by a fear of failure.  Maybe so, except you'd think there would be a lot less gardens if that were true because there's probably no other group of people on earth who face failure on a more regular basis than us gardeners.  

There are millions of these to rake before I sleep...
And cords of wood that need to be split and stacked with
the only help being an assistant whose contract
demands a kibble break ever half hour.
 However, I think it's more likely that the root cause of procrastination is having too much fun in the moment. Which, you might remember, is exactly what the grasshopper was having as he fiddled around the countryside during gardening season while watching the stiff, humorless and boring ant work his highly-colonized little ass off building a new 12,000 square foot shelter and stockpiling goods away for the winter.  You see, the ant--whose family made their fortune through leveraged buyouts of other ant colonies and by storing formic acid in sheltered off-shore locations--
understood things like division of labor, the sidestepping of regulations, and the accumulation of wealth, whereas the grasshopper, who had degrees in music and fine arts, apparently did not.  The consequences being that the grasshopper was overcome with a deathly chill as soon as winter hit, was forced to fiddle on street corners for a few crumbs of food, and ended up having to beg the ant to give him a little shelter in his magnificent new ant mansion where he simply wanted to warm his tiny, half-frozen grasshopper fiddling arms by the fire for a few moments so he could earn a couple of bucks playing the local contra dance that evening. Of course we all know what happens here.  Without mentioning anything about his political associations, for the record I'll simply state that the ant said, "screw you," mumbled something about bootstraps, responsibility and 47 percent, and allowed the grasshopper to starve to death out in the cold.

Which brings me to the real moral of this story--I better get to work!

1 comment:

  1. Fabulous post Joe! So true about the perils of gardening and grasshoppers. But glad for a few moments of reflection and laughter. Thanks Joe!


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