Category Archives: gardening

tasting that which is*

tomato

the first tomato                                                                                     © erin dunigan 2013

When I pause to think about it, it was tomatoes that did it to me, really.

That first bite of a vine-ripened-fresh-from-the-plant-right-outside-the-front-door-onto-the-plate-tomato – it hooked me, caught me, captured me and coaxed me into becoming a gardener myself.

“You mean this is what a tomato really tastes like?!” I remember saying out loud, to no one in particular. “I never knew.”

The thing is, I had become acclimatized, slowly, over time, to that round red fruit that is sold in the grocery store under the label ‘tomato.’ The fact that this round red fruit did not always taste like much had somehow ceased to be of importance to me, so gradual was the fall from flavor.

Until I tasted the real thing – and that changed everything. I had to learn to grow such beauty myself.

Which, of course, is what spirituality is all about – tasting that which is, which is more, which is, we say, of God – and thereafter not being satisfied with anything else.

It is a conversion – but one that is coaxed from us, and then cultivated within us – and one whose whole reason for being is to bear much fruit.

Taste and see – for it is good. Very good.

 

*This piece was written originally for the September issue of  Life and Work, the magazine of the Church of Scotland, to address the question, “What are the spiritual benefits of growing your own fruit and veg?”

pruning, abiding and bearing fruit: repentance and the days of awe*

“grapes”

I remember, after I had been ordained–three years ago this October–though there were many emotions present, there was one with a very particular outlet.

I was excited, finally, to be able to have something to say that I ‘do’ when crossing the  border from Mexico to the US and being questioned by the border guards. Up until that point I had tried to describe it–well, I’m in the process of becoming a Presbyterian minister, but I’m also a photographer and a writer and I travel a lot–but now I could just say “I’m a Presbyterian minister.” Easy. Done.

Right.

My first time crossing, after being ‘official’ as a minister I drove up to the gate (this was pre-SENTRI pass for those who pay attention to such details) ready to give my answer.

Sure enough the guard asked me, “What do you do?” Almost too proudly I responded, “I’m a Presbyterian minister” to which his immediate response was, “Recite the 23rd Psalm.”

I blanked. Totally blanked. This was not what I was expecting from the US Border Guard.

“Yea though I walk thru the shadow of death…” I tried, starting in the middle and stopping far short of the end.

“Keep going,” he said.

“Well, I don’t have it memorized,” I had to admit to him. “Do you?” I asked him in return.

“Yep,” he responded.

“Well, you must be Catholic,” I replied, to which he, smiling, answered in the affirmative.

“I’m Presbyterian, we don’t have to memorize Psalm 23,” I responded, rather pathetically, I can admit.

He, smiling, waved me through as I, in my shame, crossed over to the other side.

The very next time I crossed, not to be dissuaded, I planned on the same answer–though I still hadn’t memorized the 23rd Psalm.

“What do you do?” the border guard asked me. “I’m a Presbyterian minister,” I responded.

“Do you have any drugs, tobacco or alcohol with you?” he responded.

Oh, so you must be Presbyterian too…

This month our Not Church theme is the Days of Awe. It is a phrase that references the Jewish calendar, a ten day period beginning with Rosh Hashanah, and ending with Yom Kippur.

It is said that on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, God writes each person’s fate for the coming year into the Book of Life, and on Yom Kippur those records are sealed. The time between, then, is a sort of ‘purgatory’ if you will in which one can, if necessary, attempt to change the outcome.

What is interesting is that the two days are not back to back, one right after the other.  They are separated by ten days, what are known as the Days of Awe. This ‘grace period’ in a sense, is a time of penitence, of repentance, of considering what one has done that is not exactly what might have been best, and what one might do, in the coming year, to change that.

The new year begins with repentance. Ten days of repentance. It’s not unlike the New Year, the January 1st one, being a time of making resolutions. Though with the Days of Awe there is more of a focus on this need to cleanse that which has kept one distant.

Many of you know that I like to work in my garden. I’ve given you a break from garden stories for the past few months, but you know that can last only so long…

Lately I’ve been planting fruit trees. Many fruit trees. At last count I’ve got 15. You name the fruit, I’ve likely got it. except for Quince, which I had to look up when the plant guys were trying to sell me a membrillo to see what that meant. Even having the translation, knowing that the tree was a quince didn’t help me much. I’m not sure what to do with a quince.

But mango, apple (yes, I do have both mango and apple planted in the same yard…we’ll see how that goes) peach, nectarine, plum, avocado, guava, pomegranate, pear, tangerine, lemon, lime, grapefruit and, most recently, orange. I’ve also got an almond tree, a pistachio bush, and two grape vines.

Not that long ago I posted a photo of my grape vine, newly purchased, and captioned it ‘grapes!’ A friend on facebook correctly pointed out that, in fact, this was not a photo of grapes, but of a grape vine (with not even a flower at this point) and that by calling it grapes I was expressing something that I ‘saw’ but that clearly was not yet realized.

Which, of course, is what I think the ‘Days of Awe’ are all about…

Jesus, himself a Jew, who, it happens, liked to tell stories from the garden, is said to have put it this way in the book of John–the most poetic and mystical of the four gospels:

I am the vine and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit. (John 15:1-5)

Pruning, abiding, and bearing fruit.

It seems to me that the word ‘repentance‘ has got a bit of a PR problem.  I think that the idea ‘repentance’ can be a word we don’t necessarily like talking about. It too easily can bring up images of hate mongers, standing on the corner spewing vitriol, or protesting whatever they see as the current threat, while waving signs that say “Repent!”

If that’s what ‘repent’ is, I want nothing to do with it.

But in Hebrew, which is the language of the Jewish Scriptures, the word translated as repent is most often the Hebrew word Shoov, which, literally, means to turn. When I was in seminary, studying Hebrew one summer, my friends and I had to memorize something in the range of 40 words a day. The mnemonic which we used to remember Shoov was the image of your shoe, turning around. That’s free of charge. There was also another word, Ohell, which we remembered as “Ohell there’s a bear in the tent” but I can’t remember if the word means ‘tent’ or ‘bear.’ Since there are more tents than bears in the Bible, I’m guessing it was the former…

I also took Greek, which is the language of the Christian Scriptures, known often as the New Testament. In Greek the word for repent is most often metanoia, or to change ones mind.

So repent literally means to turn around–to stop going in one direction and turn, or return, in the opposite direction. It is a changing of ones mind.

It is not so much about “Horrible me, I’m an awful person, what must I do to rid myself of my horrible-ness.” It is more like ‘pruning’ which is an entirely different concept altogether. I’ve seen it primarily in my bougainvillea.

Last winter I gave the bougainvillea what I would call a good haircut. So good, in fact, that people who saw it wondered if it would ever come back. It had been a few years since I had pruned it, and in the intervening time it had gotten rather ‘leggy’ and not very full. So I pruned it. It was not because I was mad at it, or because it is an awful plant and needed to be punished–I pruned it because I wanted it to grow well.  And this summer? The blossoms are abundant, the foliage is dense and green.

The Days of Awe give us an opportunity to reflect, to prune.

But the thing about pruning, and about bearing fruit is that they both, of course, assume planting. There is a Chinese proverb–the best time to plant a tree is 100 years ago. The second best time is today.

The thing is, if you want to eat grapes now, you don’t plant a grape vine. If you want to eat grapes now you go to the fruteria and, provided they are in season, which they are currently, you buy yourself some grapes.

Planting a grape vine is something different entirely.

Though I have 15 fruit trees, this summer I can tell you exactly how much fruit I ate from them: three nectarines and one plum. That’s it. Four pieces of fruit. Granted, they were delicious. The best nectarine you’ve ever eaten. A plum that was sweet beyond anything that you’d buy at the store. But, that’s something in the range of $50 per piece of fruit, if you do the math.

It’s not exactly a great deal. At least not yet.

Right now, in fact, it seems a bit absurd, really.

But give it time. It will most definitely seem absurd. But, I trust, for entirely different reasons.

For I remember, as a kid growing up, we had a plum tree in our back yard. There were three of us–my mom, my dad and I–and we could not possibly eat all of the plums that came from that tree in a given summer, making jam with some, and giving the rest away. In fact, I was born in June, and that summer the plum tree on Snug Harbor Road had a bumper crop. Let’s just say, my mom learned the hard way that what she ate, I ate. But, I like to think that the love of plums, fresh from the tree, was instilled within me from the very milk that I feasted on when I was only weeks old.

That was one tree, with three people. I’ve planted 15 trees. I hope you all like fruit…

The Days of Awe invite us into a time of reflection, of repentance, of turning away from certain ways of being, pruning if you will, and turning toward that which bears fruit, abiding.

We are invited to consider that which we need to let go of, that which binds us, that which keeps us from being who we already are.

The fundamental question asked, in the ten day period represented by the Days of Awe, is ‘will my name be written in the book of life?’

We are called to turn, to change our minds, to repent.

But, at the end of the day, the point is not the pruning. The point is to bear fruit.

Jesus, when he preached among the people, put it this way: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Turn. Return. Change your mind. That which you are seeking, it is not ‘out there’ distant in some far off place or for some future time. Believe. It is right here, now, among you, within you.

You are already who you are still becoming–like a Presbyterian minister who doesn’t know the 23rd Psalm. Like a fruit tree. Like a grape vine.  This process doesn’t happen over night or immediately. It is not instantaneous. There is a time, a grace period–the Days of Awe–a space between the New Year and the Day of Atonement.

It’s like seeing that young vine, still only a plant, no fruit yet to speak of, and proclaiming, “grapes!”

 

*presented at Not Church September 9, 2012

jabulani: pap and sheba

Are you around? I’ve made some traditional Zulu food and you’ve got to try it. 

It’s not exactly the kind of message you expect to get, living in Baja.

But with South African, Thai, and Spanish neighbors, in addition to the plentiful Mexicans and Americans, even in this small town it is not entirely out of the realm of the possible.

Turns out the ‘Zulu food’ is called Pap and Sheba. It’s ‘traditional’ food in South Africa–never something you’d go to a restaurant for, but something you’d eat at home, according to my host and impromptu cooking jefe, Ron.

He made it because his first foray into home gardening has gifted him with an abundance of tomatoes–tomatoes that were delicious in the sauce of the dish, called ‘Sheba.’

Pap, the ‘starch’ of the dish, is a corn meal substance, like a polenta, over which the Sheba–saucy with tomatoes, onions, garlic and spices to taste–is poured.

It was delicious.

So delicious, in fact, that I had to go home and try to make it myself. That same night. After eating an entire bowl full.

I too, have been gifted with a garden full of tomatoes, many of which I’ve sun-dried on the dashboard of my car (that will have to be another post) but with the cooler temps that have come in, sautéing them seemed to be a good option.

Though my attempt was not nearly as tasty as the real deal (taught to Ron by a lovely African woman named Violet) it is good enough to keep the leftovers and marks my first entrance into adding a South African flair to the cooking repertoire.

jubulani! (which, I learned, is a zulu word for ‘rejoice’)

what we nurture*

I have another story for you from the garden…I know, maybe you are getting sick of stories from the garden? But, the thing is, two of my favorite story tellers also focus on stories from the garden, or about the land—those storytellers, are, of course, Jesus and Garrison Keillor.

This story is from a few years back. It, too, is one of the instrumental pieces in my becoming the ‘gardener’ that I am today. It was really the sort of ‘taking it to the next level’ of my gardening prowess.

It was summer. Maybe even July, which is, under normal circumstances, a bit too late to begin planting seeds. But these were not normal circumstances.

My good family friend, Jack, like a father to me, and what I had left after my own father had passed away three years before, was nearing the final stages of dying from cancer. He was still living a fairly ‘normal’ life, but it was clear that he would not be ‘winning’ this battle. It was, as you can imagine, a difficult time.

As it happened, two of his three grandchildren were away at camp. The third, Tommy, at 6 was too young, and had to stay home.

To be honest, I don’t really remember exactly how it played out, but, on a whim really, Tommy and I decided to plant a garden in his grandparents back yard. Or Tommy decided. Like I said, I’m not sure how it actually began. But I can tell you how it grew.

There was a lot of unused dirt, that had been laying fallow for years. I wasn’t entirely sure that it was capable of growing anything, truth be told. But we decided to take a chance, and to see.

So, Tommy and I made a trip to the nursery, and I told him to pick out whatever he wanted to plant. Let’s just say we left with quite a collection of seeds—pumpkins, corn, tomatoes, onions, carrots, Crenshaw melons and even morning glories, which we only later found out were poisonous, but which provided a beautiful canopy of color along one of the fences.

For the next few weeks Tommy and I cultivated sections of that fallow, untouched dirt and waited to see what would happen.

…..

Again Jesus began to teach beside the lake. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the lake on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’

…..

As we began to talk about Not Church for May, and the realization that it was falling on Mother’s Day, it was suggested that we take that and allow it to guide us toward a theme of ‘nurture.’

To be honest, I was less than thrilled. Nurture? I thought. It somehow struck me as a Hallmark excuse to sell cards—this sort of surface level celebration of all things motherly and sugary and sweet. But that is what the group had decided, and I wasn’t going to be the one to overrule it.

But as I thought about it, nurture seemed, to me, a bit sentimental, a bit ‘warm and fuzzy’ a bit ‘kum ba yah’ and group hug. It seemed, as I thought about it, to lack grounding, to lack roots. It was, perhaps, a beautiful flower, but one whose color faded quickly, almost like the seed in Jesus’ story, the seed that was dropped along the path and quickly plucked away by the birds, or that which fell amongst the rocks, sprang up quickly, and then was scorched by the sun.

…..

The sun was hot that summer, that summer that Tommy and I planted a garden in his grandparents’ backyard—no gloomy marine layer in that July.  Each afternoon, Tommy and his mom would come over to his grandparents’ house to water the ground, to water the seeds.

For my part, I was a bit nervous. I had never done such wide scale planting before. I had no idea if it would ‘work.’ I had no idea if we would actually be able to grow anything in that hardened, dried out and crusty dirt. Added to that, I had let a six year old do most of the work. Did we really know that the seeds had been planted at a quarter of an inch, or a half inch or…? Everyone seemed to look to me as the expert, since I was the one with the idea. But I was learning along with the process. Sure, I had been planting tomatoes for the previous three years, after the passing of my dad. And I had dabbled with zucchini—supposedly the easiest thing in the world to grow, but for which I seemed to lack the secret, getting one mediocre squash the entire season. All of my gardening had all been in pots in my moms small yard. Nothing of the scale or magnitude that Tommy and I were attempting.

…..

This past week, as I began working on a new section of my garden, adding the freshly composted soil that I’ve been allowing to decompose for the past six months, it occurred to me, and for those of you who are parents, you mothers in particular, this will likely not seem surprising—that nurture is hardly a ‘fluffy’ or ‘sentimental’ idea—it is hard work!

Preparing that soil had meant moving mounds of dirt, adding truckloads of dried manure, searching for enough dead leaves and other decomposing plants to mix in, and hauling them, in buckets and large garbage bags, down the road from where I had found them and into the garden. It meant pick axing the hardened ground to loosen it in preparation. Shoveling, moving it slowly, in buckets, from one part of the garden, into a pile, and then from that pile to the final destination. It was back breaking work, almost literally.

On top of all that, it meant carefully transplanting my tiny little tomato shoots, and the seedlings of something in the squash family that I can’t remember exactly what I planted, seedlings that I have worked hard to get to this point, and putting them into the newly prepared ground, hoping that they will be able to take root.

…..

What was taking root, that summer, was more than simply those seeds Tommy and I planted. What was taking root was, in a quite literal sense, life.

In the midst of a time where death seemed to hang in the air as something not quite present, but on the tip of your tongue, we were literally sowing life. Hope. The act of gardening, of planting seeds, is, by its very nature, an act of hope for the future. It is not an immediate process. It takes effort—it requires nurture. And it waits for growth, for new life.

Over the course of the next few months there were times when I had to be out of town, During those times I’d get a phone call, from Jack, Tommy’s grandfather, giving me a report on the garden. “Erin, you’re not going to believe it, but I think the morning glories are going to take over the block.” Or “Hi Erin, I just wanted to let you know that the tomatoes are taller than Tommy now.” Or “This pumpkin vine looks as though it is going to take over the entire back yard.”

It was amazing. Like nothing I had ever seen before, or anything I’ve seen since. That garden—that hardened, fallow ground—burst forth with abundant new life. It was, I believe, a gift of pure grace. It offered a respite from the death, and an experience of and participation in cultivating, nurturing, life.

It was like the seed, in Jesus’ story, that fell on the good soil—it came up, produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, a hundred times.

…..

There is a term I’ve been reminded of lately. Beloved community. It was a term used by a young woman—younger than me!—who is an artist and in the process of becoming a Presbyterian minister, and who seeks to foster such ‘beloved community’ in her life as an artist and as a minister.

It struck me that, like the word nurture, the word community can often be seen as something a bit, well, a bit sentimental and not necessarily very deep—can’t we all just get along, why don’t we pretend to be buddy buddy—a sense of glossing over the differences or the challenges and putting on a happy face. But community, like nurture, does not have to remain in the realm or at the level of a Hallmark card.

Which is why I like this phrase, beloved community. For me, it conveys a sense of something that may require pick-axing hardened ground, moving bucket loads of dirt, waiting months, or even years, as the elements are allowed to come together, to sink in, and to create a rich and fertile soil, a good soil, one that bears much fruit.

A beloved community is one which may take some work, some hard work, but which bears much fruit, which blossoms, and displays its colors in a beautiful canopy.

A beloved community is one that…offers hospitality to friends and strangers alike—and we all know that no one is allowed to remain a stranger long in this place!

A beloved community is one that comes together to celebrate weddings, to remember those who have passed on, to enjoy life over a shared meal or an evening cocktail, or that comes together in a space like this, to set our intention on that which binds us all together in our common journey…

A beloved community doesn’t pretend that it is perfect or without fault—we all, at times need help finding our way—but a beloved community is one in which we come alongside our neighbors, our friends, and even those with whom we might disagree on politics or religion.

A beloved community, it seems to me, does not live only for itself, but offers itself to the world, a taste of the richness and goodness of life lived in all its fullness.

That, is what we nurture.

*A sermon written for Not Church on Mother’s Day. Thanks to Doug Rye, for delivering the sermon on my behalf.

liminal spaces and thin places (holy saturday)

Celtic crosses in a graveyard along the southwestern coast of Ireland

I first heard the term ‘liminality‘ from a book I read for a seminary class back in the late 90’s.  Liminality is a word used to describe the in-between places–whether culturally, geographically, or metaphorically–places or spaces which are often thresholds between one world, or way of being, and another. The book, “Missionary Congregation, Leadership, and Liminality (Christian Mission & Modern Culture)"".” The Missionary Congregation, Leadership and Liminality, planted in me an interest in this idea of liminal spaces that has continued to grow over the past decade, and has cropped up in all sorts of unexpected places.

Like the garden.

I’ve been reading quite a bit about permaculture (which is, of course, an entire subject in its own right) as it relates to more sustainable ideas for gardening, water usage and soil conservation. Within permaculture I came across the concept of ‘edge.’

Edge, used in this way, refers to the ‘boundary between two elements.’ Edge, as permaculturetokyo describes it ‘is where the action is.’ Edge is the intersection between two worlds–not entirely one, and not entirely the other.

Edge, ecologically speaking, is a place of diversity.  On the edge, “life takes advantage of these energy and material exchanges, and thrives far more easily at these discontinuities than in the more homogenous interior of an area.”*

Like La Mision.

La Mision is a small coastal Baja town about an hour south of the US/Mexico border. It is actually three communities: one primarily American expatriate, and two Mexican, all nestled within a river valley that opens onto the coast. La Mision is so named after the Spanish mission, Misión San Miguel Arcángel de la Frontera, which was built here in 1787.

La Mision, perhaps because of its proximity to the border and the intermingling of its Mexican and American communities, is, in many ways, a place of ‘edge’ where different cultures, people and worlds have the opportunity to, in a sense, marinade together in the same juices. Some consider the region to be a vortex, or a sort of thin place, as Celtic Spirituality would describe it. (For a fascinating (and quite in depth) look at this idea within the Christian tradition, take a look at Mark Roberts’ series of posts on thin places.)

A thin place, put simply, is a place where the boundary between heaven and earth, or the divine and human, is especially thin–a place in which we can experience the divine more easily.

In such liminal spaces and thin places we are given the opportunity to learn, to shift, or to be transformed. But such transformation is not forced on us. The edge is where the energy is, but we can always choose to move away from it, back to the comfort of the center.

Like today.

It was Catholic priest and author Richard Rohr, who’s Daily Meditation for today, Holy Saturday (the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday) got me to thinking of liminal spaces in relation to this day ‘between.’

As Rohr puts it, “A “liminal space” is the crucial in-between time—when everything actually happens and yet nothing appears to be happening.  It is the waiting period when the cake bakes, the movement is made, the transformation takes place.” Holy Saturday, the day that commemorates Jesus laying in the tomb after his crucifixion, before any idea of impending resurrection was yet known, is, in one sense, the ultimate of ‘in between spaces.’

The thing about liminal spaces and edge is that they can often be places of discomfort–even, in many ways, feeling like a ‘death’ of sorts. Because one is living in the midst of that which is no longer, but not yet living into that which will become, it can feel disorienting, difficult, and discouraging. Take living in another culture, for instance. Sure there is the excitement, the fun of learning new words or new foods, making new friends. But there are also the frustrating and challenging components like figuring out how the system actually works, or learning the difference between ‘ahora’ (now) and ‘ahorita’ (soon, sometime, not too long from now) if you’re waiting for someone to arrive.

One of my most painful cross-cultural experiences came when I was living in St. Andrews, Scotland. I assumed that since I was living in an English speaking country that the cross-cultural ‘confusion’ would be minimal. I spoke the language, didn’t I?

It struck me, literally, one day walking out of a photo shop in town. After picking up some prints I had made, I went to exit the shop, pushing on the metal handle of the glass door. I ran right into the door. Somewhat painfully, I might add. Somewhat embarrassingly as well, with the shop full on a Saturday afternoon and with my crash into the door causing a decent racket. Red-faced, I pulled open the door, and exited the shop.

That was when I realized what had, up to that point, been more of a subtle discomfort. In the US, almost always, if you are exiting a public space you push the door out–I believe it has something to do with fire codes and being able to leave in a hurry. In this particular shop, and in others, as I later discovered, that ‘rule’ of pushing to exit did not apply. I had made an assumption that things were ‘the way they always are’–at least ‘always’ in my own experience. Prior to this day, each time I had exited the store, it had been a bit awkward as I navigated the door. But it took me literally crashing into it to make me realize that my assumptions and my past experience, in this case, did not hold true. It’s a silly example, but a telling one.

What liminal spaces, edge, or thin places do is to present us with a similar sort of ‘crash’ of our ordinary assumptions of ‘the way things are.’ Immigrants, those living outside of their own culture, are often most in the position to encounter such insights, living, as they do, in a world that is often, in many ways, foreign to them.

Those within the dominant culture (or previously dominant culture)  may do well to listen to and learn from those groups who have long navigated life from within the margins of society.  Often this societal shift is mourned by those who sense that their place at the center is somehow eroding out from under them. Sometimes it can even be so intense as to feel like the death of the world as it always was.

But sometimes, as we are especially reminded of today, that which seems to signal death is often actually the path to new life.

* From Permaculture Theme: Mind the Edge

“crucify him!” (Jesus and the gopher, part 2)

Tigger, the hunter

There is good news, and there is bad news, and they are both the same thing. Despite the previously mentioned ‘ultima cena‘ for little gophy (and at the risk of rushing straight from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday) he lives.

It was Tigger who spotted him, from the porch. I’m not sure if spotted or sensed or smelled is the right word to use, but, upon watching her pounce from the porch down into the garden, I followed.

What I was greeted with brought me both relief and frustration. Relief knowing that my decision to use poison gas to rid the yard of little gophy had not actually murdered his poor gopher soul (and implicated my own in the process).  Frustration knowing that my ‘horticulture’ as it is described in Spanish (from my conversations yesterday at the granero) is most definitely still at risk of being destroyed from the roots up.

Quickly I called to Tigger, ran up to the porch, tied her up, and got the tube of gas pellets. I was headed back down the steps to gophy, whose little head was again poking up out of the hole, his big front teeth prominent, with the thought that this might just be it, the end of gophy. I had him in my sights, a perfectly accessible hole down which to drop the ‘danger poison gas pellet’ when, from somewhere, I heard, echoing in my head “crucify him! crucify him!”  (Apparently this is what can happen when one spends too much time alone in the garden…)

this is not the kind of 'shooting gophy' I initially had in mind

Today is, of course, Good Friday, the day on the Christian calendar commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus. The day when the crowds cheered, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Author and Catholic priest Richard Rohr, in his daily meditation for Good Friday put it this way: “The central issue at work [on Good Friday] is the human inclination to kill others, in any multitude of ways, instead of dying ourselves—to our own illusions, pretenses, narcissism, and self-defeating behaviors.” Hmmm…

Today also, this year, happens to be Earth Day, a day, as wikipedia puts it “to inspire awareness and appreciation for the earth’s natural environment.” The day when we are supposed to celebrate the earth and its creatures, all God’s creation. Presbyterian Pastor Craig Goodwin, in an article about the intersection of Good Friday and Earth Day, puts it this way: “Earth Day’s collaboration with Good Friday helps the church remember that, like his love, Jesus’ sacrifice is for all the Earth.”

On both accounts, it seemed like a rather bad day to reach for the gas pellets.

So, I put the tube back in the bag and headed into the house for some garlic. Yesterday the Mexican caretaker of the house next to me told me that garlic will deter gophers. So, I peeled off a couple of ‘dientes’ (literally teeth) of garlic, dropped them in the hole, and covered it up.

15 minutes later Tigger was back in the yard, watching the gopher, its head poking out of a new hole.

maundy thursday (or, jesus and the gopher)

Tigger, with muddied nose and paws from attempted gopher excavation

I happened to be in Tijuana today so I decided it was time–time to head to Home Depot and take care of what has become an escalating gopher ‘situation’ in the yard–the same yard in which I’ve been planting tomatoes, blueberries, arugula, carrots and strawberries, among other things.

Well, to be entirely forthright, it was yesterday afternoon when I realized it was time. The gopher had poked its (actually rather cute) head out of one of the many holes and appeared to be looking around. Tigger (the dog), who had been waiting for this sighting, stood about a foot away, staring at said gopher. Her concentration was complete, but she did not make a lunge for the gopher. I’m guessing that since they live under ground gophers eyesight is not great, because it didn’t seem to notice a fairly large potential predator staring right at it.

I watched. And waited. Nothing. Tigger had been stalking it all afternoon, so I didn’t understand why she didn’t pounce. So, I took matters into my own hands, which happened to be holding a rake. With a really long handle. A handle that is sort of the same size as a gopher hole. I shoved the rake handle into the hole. At which point I realized that I had officially crossed some sort of line. A troubling one.

“Did I really just go after the gopher with the end of the rake?” I asked myself–though not out loud, as that would make me sound crazy.

Of course the gopher was much quicker than my rake wielding skills, so it really accomplished nothing. Except for to unmask the truth behind my so-called “belief in non-violence,” which is something that I would espouse as something I adhere to. Except, apparently, when it comes to gophers eating my vegetables. Which got me to thinking about non-violent resistance, and how there are real situations with real threats and folks choose a path that relinquishes fighting back.  Which then lead me to ponder liberation theology, which is often associated with the need, at some point, to fight back against an oppressor. Which lead me to many other thoughts that I won’t bore you with here.

Cut to today. I was in Tijuana, happened to be near Home Depot, and decided it was time to find a gopher solution. Which, apparently, at least in Mexico, is not found at Home Depot but at the ‘granero’ which is literally translated ‘barn’ but in actuality is a sort of feed supply store that also sells baby chicks, ducks, dogs, and, as I found out, gopher ‘solutions.’

One brief aside, for context. Today, Thursday, happens to be what is called on the Christian calendar, Maundy Thursday. Mandy Thursday (which I always thought growing up was Monday Thursday and didn’t really get) is the Thursday before Easter that Christians celebrate as the Passover meal which Jesus shared with his disciples.  It is frequently referred to as the “Last Supper” and is the subject of the famous painting of the same name.

So, when I walked into the granero and asked the woman if she had anything for gophers (I intentionally didn’t use the word ‘kill’ but stuck with ‘anything for gophers’ hoping that maybe I could find a way to avert traveling further down the path that the rake handle had begun) her response seemed rather fitting, in a troubling sort of way.

“Ah, la ultima cena para los topos,” she responded, which, translated loosely means “Ah, the last supper for the gophers.”

“Como hoy, con Jesus?” I responded (like today, with Jesus?). I assumed that her somewhat incomprehensible look back at me was that she simply didn’t know that today was Maundy Thursday, the day commemorating Jesus’ Last Supper.  In reflecting back on the situation, it occurs to me that perhaps she was not unaware, but somewhat troubled that I would compare poisoning gophers to Jesus.

There were a few more mentions of ‘ultima cena’ (which, each time, made me more and more uncomfortable with the merging of the terminology between gophers and Jesus) but she finally decided that, since I do have a dog, rather than the ‘ultima cena’ what I needed was gas pellets, which, unfortunately, she did not have. Somehow adding a gas pellet to the mix did not seem to make the conversation more palatable.

So I left. And went to another granero, which thankfully did not use the ‘ultima cena’ reference, and which did happen to have the gas pellets. After an extensive discussion regarding whether or not they could be used in a garden with a dog and with vegetables, and with a consult to a veterinarian (again, this seems like a troubling turn of events), it was determined that the gas pellets would work. The same gas pellets that, when I googled the name, made sure to warn that they are only to be used by trained and certified professionals. Where did I put that rake again…?

The thing is, I’ve been trying the ‘natural gopher deterrent’ route for some time now, with pretty much no success, as little gophy’s appearance yesterday can attest to.  Bill Murray’s got nothing on me, with google on my side. I’ve tried putting dog poop down the holes, using a hose, planting onions nearby, a stake that makes some sort of noise that is supposed to keep the gophers away, and even some other things that shall go unmentioned. Yesterday, after the rake incident, Jose suggested that one solution he had heard about was breaking wine bottles and putting them in the bottom of the hole where you are going to plant something. Which may or may not work, until the next season when you have to dig the soil again…

I spent the afternoon planting new seedlings–tomato, cucumber, kale, basil–which was, in a sense, procrastinating.

My mind was doing as much digging around as my hands.

…Why am I planting all of these if the gopher is just going to eat them?
…Are you really going to gas the gopher?
…Do you have any other solutions left? What about planting garlic?
…You talk about Jesus’ death on the cross as the ultimate act of non-violent resistance…and to commemorate it you are going to murder that poor, sweet, cuddly, furry little gopher? What kind of hypocrite are you?

Okay, so that last one might be a bit of a stretch…or is it? Is it ever okay to take life, intentionally, premeditated? Are vegetables sufficient rationale? I’m sorry PETA, but I don’t think twice before swatting a mosquito that is about to bite me. But somehow a gopher seems different–maybe it’s the cuddly nature. I didn’t really think twice when I encouraged Tigger to catch the mouse which had gotten in the house and was hiding under the kitchen sink. But that was a mouse…in the house.

This gopher was just out in the garden, being a gopher, minding its own gopher business when it happened upon a goldmine–carrots (which, being a root vegetable, are completely within gopher range). Who wouldn’t partake?

I realize there are some (who have probably stopped reading this by now, wondering what the drama is all about) who would not think twice about doing whatever it takes to rid the yard of gophers. One of the options that was presented at the granero was a rather large metal trap. “No gracias,” I promptly replied. There was no way I was going to dispose of a gopher corpse.

But the thing is, if I could get someone else to do it for me, I’d probably be right there with them. Which, I’m afraid, does not help my cause much. “I’m okay with killing as long as I don’t have to have blood on my hands” seems to be a fairly apropos sentiment reminiscent of Pontius Pilate. It was Pilate who (on what has now come to be called ‘Good Friday”) infamously ‘washed his hands’ of guilt/responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus.

But that, conveniently, is a story for tomorrow.