Making meaning when the harvest comes to nothing

Post in: German

Before I left on vacation, I carefully preserved the summer’s harvest in the freezer. I spent hours picking and de-stoning cherries, hours picking raspberries and gooseberries (The gooseberry bushes act like angry cats when you try to take their berries, and I am often asked after harvest, „do you have a cat that you bathed on the weekend?“ because my arms look it). In short, it was work. But I had no time for canning, and frankly, I thought the freezer was a great solution. Why not? I can use the fruit for smoothies or yogurt or can always melt it down into jam … later. Yes, later. Some distant day when I will get to all those things that I think would be a good idea to do … someday (You don’t have such things, do you? Your stuff gets done when you think of it the first time, right? Your garage, basement, home office are in perfect order, aren’t they? And there’s not a single expired coupon in your home, bag, or car, right? Or you’re a human being too?)

Everything was carefully saved and labeled in freezer bags, and off I went for a month. Neighbors looked after the balcony and generally kept an eye on things, so I gave no second thought to the homestead.

But some things no one can keep an eye on, they don’t appear from outside. They have to be lived and experienced, not just “seen.”
I arrived home, after a month away, on a sunny Thursday afternoon. The greeting was a strange, rotten smell.
A brief investigation of the apartment revealed that while I was gone, the electricity had gone out. Apparently there was a storm. Ladies and Gentlemen, there is a reason our ancestors relied on canning instead of electricity for preserving their harvests. My harvest was GONE. Some was fermented, some was just liquid with floating fruit bodies lying on top. All was tragically never going to nourish a human being.
It took three hours to clean out the liquid mess from the freezer. All that abundance from three months of growing season was wiped out in a single storm. Compared to farmers, I had it easy. But what was mine was gone, and I felt the loss.

And isn’t that often the way, whether at home, in relationships, or at work, we do something, only to lose it and start all over again. Whether it’s normal tasks like cooking a meal or ironing a shirt, or more elaborate ones like paining a room or putting in a garden, the act of living – our own human living and the living nature of the planet – makes more work necessary and makes other work feel like it was for nothing.
A leaky roof, a storm, a flood, the act of living, other people’s decisions, and suddenly or gradually our work disappears, our harvest is gone. That’s the nature of things.

But nothing is for nothing, if we choose to take what it does have to offer instead of grieving over what it didn’t give us.

Here’s what I learned from my freezer going out on me.
I can try to save for the future, but now is all I reliably have. The future may or may not turn out as I planned. If it doesn’t turn out as planned, all I can do is go forward and start from here, with what I know now. Doing work teaches us something, without exception, if we choose to learn.

How can we apply these ideas to projects at work? How often do we build a concept, write something up, apply for a program or grant, prepare a proposal, and it leads “nowhere”? The project is cancelled, the grant is rejected, the boss changes and the new one is not interested in the old plans. What sense can we make out of spending our lives on such apparent ‘fruitlessness’? (pun intended)
I look at it this way: we learned and grew and invested in something by doing it. Whether or not it leads to the desired outcome is not the point. Even if the only learning was “I hate doing that and I don’t want to do that ever again,” that’s important learning.
In the case of a project, we develop new skills, we learn new things. In the case of my harvest, I learned that I can climb a cherry tree and I enjoy pitting cherries. They’re beautiful. It was like handling art to de-stone those cherries. It’s true that no one will ever eat them. But apparently that’s not why they grew on the tree, that was not their Aristotlean “final cause” this year. Their “final cause” was to give me exercise by tracking them down in the tree, teach me a lesson in letting go of what won’t be and accepting what is, and give me a chance to pass the lesson along in an inspiring blog, to be immortalized in the internet forevermore. Not bad for a few pounds of cherries!
And as for the nutrient value of the lost cherries: we will all be nourished by other means, we who might have eaten them, if they had survived the summer.

I moved forward by going to my garden after cleaning up the mess. Showing up at the blank slate is half the battle, if not more. I hadn’t seen my garden for a month. I feared the weeds and the damage from the hot sun, but I was also curious what happened in my absence, how did things develop without my intervention.
I was greeted with – a new harvest. Plums, mirabellen, apples, and raspberries. Life and abundance. Without my management or supervision. Who woulda thought? Sometimes leaving something in peace for a little while is the best we can do for it.
Now I take the time to can things, as the ancestors did. If nature gives me its harvest, the least I can do is honor that abundance with a respectful handling. If it’s important to me, I will make the time for it.
There’s a plum purée stewing in the oven now.
The harvest doesn’t come to nothing, not ever. It just looks and tastes different from what we expected.

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