I finally got around to putting my rake and shovels back in the shed today, though I put the garden to bed weeks ago when the days of October had finally cooled and the moon made her nightly appearance much earlier than during that middle-of-the-summer heat. Though their green had paled, their leaves developing a crunch like the dry medallions fluttering from the nearby cottonwood; though the sun offered watered-down rays and shorter days, the bell pepper and tomato plants were still giving through fall’s final moments.
Today, the plants in my garden—save for the low-to-the-ground fronds of dill and the ever-enthusiastic runners of spearmint—have finally lain down after a long growing season. As for butterflies, only the straggler Yellow Sulphur remains on a stray warm day, floating on the lukewarm air, in search of any source of nectar that can be found. What she’s holding out for, I’m not certain, as, surely, she’ll meet her end with tomorrow’s freeze. But of course, the butterflies—synced as they are with this land—are wiser than I could ever hope to be.
Soon, if I’m lucky, I’ll feel the familiar tug on my heart that comes when I smell snow in the air; That tug that transports me back to a childhood where December snow wasn’t a rarity; where I didn’t have to rely on reminiscing to call up the feeling of standing on the land with the milky-white sky reaching toward me as fat snowflakes fell upon my upturned face. But even if the smell of snow never arrives this December, even if no blanket of sparkling white covers the fuzzy heads of the spent goldenrod, it will just take a jaunt to my sleeping garden to remind me that I love this land for exactly what she is, not what she used to be or what she could be.
When this land is abuzz with activity, when the plants are growing profusely thanks to the rain and the long working hours of the sun, it’s easy for almost anyone to see why this land is the apple of my eye. When the perfume of the Common Milkweed wafts up on the breeze, when the heads of elder are heavy with berries black with juice, when the sunflower heads sit strong upon the necks of their thick stems as they follow their star’s path through the sky, it’s no wonder this land captivates me.
But today… today, those plants have sent the sun’s energy underground to be stored ‘til the days again extend past 5 o’clock. The elder is bare and the sunflower heads hang heavy. Today, it is not glaringly obvious to any old eye that there’s beauty to behold here. The land is sleeping, the land is resting, the land is tired and spent. My own winter body craves restoration, bundling up against the wind whipping across the bare plains, daydreaming about staring into a crackling fire come nightfall.
Like the land, I’ve lost my color; my summertime skin fading into its wintertime pallor. Together, our vibrance wanes like the daylight; but as the moon waxes from a sliver of herself to her fullest form, let us not forget we’ll be glowing bright again in just a few months’ time.
My sleeping garden speaks to me as we try to remember together what summer was like—a distant memory of not-so-long-ago that takes effort to recall. Like two weary old women drumming up moments past, it takes both my garden and me sitting together to call to mind the sound of glass gem corn in the wind—the barren stalks standing as reminders of a few weeks earlier when the farm cat lounged beneath their verdant shade, gently patting the cool dirt with his lazy tail. As I gaze up at the dead gray vines on the arched trellis, I ask, Remember how the passionflower climbed? She replies, Ah, yes, the way the three-leafed foliage and peculiar purple petals framed the red setting sun. What a sight that was.
Though my ancestors are not of this land; though I sit here in this bare winter garden only because of the genocidal sins of the generations of white men who came before me; I am of this earth, and I love this land as if it were my own. I cannot commune with the native plants of this place like the people who evolved alongside them for millennia, that is true. But love is the way we live on the land, and as I love my own body through the pale months of the year, I love this land, too.
Love is the way we, as the observers with the hands for documenting, note the subtlest of changes as the seasons slowly—and at moments, quickly—meld into one another like milk poured into a glass of cold-press coffee: a stark contrast between deep brown and vivid white one moment, a perfectly-blended warm sepia the next. December is the result of blending brown and white; the movement in the glass finally slows as the season settles into her new hue—wintertime.
Love is the way we speak tenderly to our plant relatives—never assuming to know all the answers ourselves. Love is the way we sit with a sleeping garden—looking upon her barren stems and vines with gratitude for all she provided. Love is the way we live on the land—with gentle respect for every creature, leaf, and rock whose lives here intersect with our own, in every season, in every form. Love is particularly the way we live on the land when all signs of life have gone underground; when most find her unlovable, inhospitable—love is the way we stick around.
Morgan Barrett is an old soul in a three-decades-old body. She lives in rural northeastern Kansas with her husband, toddler twins, dogs, cats, and chickens. Gardening, reading, writing, and soaking up life as a mom occupy her happiest moments. Morgan was born with a rare, genetic chronic illness (cystic fibrosis), which has never defined her but has been her teacher in many of life’s more difficult moments. You can find her haltingly oversharing her life at @MorganBarrett__ on Instagram.