Thursday, August 30, 2007

Handed-Down Wisdom

A few weeks ago I had the happy privilege of going to see my favorite uncle and aunt and their children in KY (Hi, Gerald and Felicia, if you are reading this!) This is the uncle who grew up in the Appalachian Kentucky mountains and from whom I first learned my way around the natural world. He told me a story about the years, not so long ago, when he had a 4 acre vegetable farm at his childhood home and about an ag extension service agent remarking on the rich tilth of the garden soil. My uncle mused about how his father, my grandfather, used to make sure that everything that grew out of the garden was put back into the soil, with the exception of what was actually eaten. He remembered he and his brothers becoming irritated with having to chop up the corn stalks and dig them back into the ground when their friends' families just burned those stalks as useless debris!

It wasn't until I got back home that I started wondering about how my grandfather knew the importance of taking care of his soil. It wasn't common knowledge in those days before the Dust Bowl years hit. Back then, Kentucky farmers were still tilling the bare mountian slopes that should have been covered with woodlands. My grandfather never learned to read and in the 1920's and 1930's there would not have been much information published about taking care of the land anyway. I imagine that he just knew somehow what good stewardship required and that he realized he would need to take care of his land if he wanted to feed his large family for years to come. That my uncle continued in the same vein and that his soil continued to improve over the years speaks a great deal to me about taking care of anything, be it land or home or children or other relationships.

It is not a difficult jump from thinking about intentionally feeding the garden soil to caring for that with which we have been entrusted. And I do not always do a good job of being a steward of what has been granted me, though I am starting to think more about the subject since talking with my uncle. There are numerous applications to this concept of tending what we have but I have been thinking about it lately as it applies to relationships. I have a husband, children who are grown or almost grown, a brother who lives several hours away, these dear KY relatives, and a handful of old and new friends whom I care about. The bonds with all of them are special but I have realized all over again that unless I put time and effort into nurturing those bonds, over time they are likely to weaken and even to break. The same is true with my relationship with God, and though I know that He will not let the bonds break, how intimately I am acquainted with Him is a choice that I make for myself.

I am grateful I am for the life I have been given. I do not lead an unusual life, or one filled with money or power or even some of the wishes that I would like to see happen. But the people I care about, my love for the land, and God's daily presence provide a richness that satisfies my soul and my spirit. As I tend the soil around my home I hope to remember the need to do the same with all that matters to me. What is true for the land is true for the rest of life. What we we put into it tends to determine what we receive back.

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