Full On and Flat Out

Note: This article is obviously several months old. All I can say is that it took this long to get ripe…


There’s a new mental disorder stalking the western world: Nature Deficit Disorder. Our widespread disconnection from the natural world—most of us can’t distinguish between tree species, don’t walk in the woods or see the stars, rarely stand in an unaltered landscape—is making us sick. The list of effects includes depression, limited attention span, stress, obesity and even myopia.

Well, I’m gravely myopic. I admit to a touch of extra weight, a limited attention span, possibly a soupçon of mania. And stress? You would feel it too if you had to deal with what I had to deal with this fall: full-on and flat-out abundance.

Currently awaiting attention in the garage are green tomatoes ripening under cover, plum vinegar in need of decanting, and three boxes of apples waiting to be sauced, pied, or chutney-ed. Already on the storage shelves are batches of salsa, raspberry jam, plum sauce, cherry vinegar and black currant jelly. There are 30 quarts of apple cider too, along with garlic, onions and squash. In the basement you’ll find potatoes, while the back-porch freezer holds pesto, dried tomatoes, tomato sauce, bags of blueberries, raspberries, and plums and apples cut for pie. The pantry holds dried apples and plums, and I can’t count the boxes and bags of fresh produce that have gone to good homes since July.

I am not a great gardener. Nor am I a food security junky. This orgy of picking, slicing, pickling, drying, juicing, fermenting, saucing, jelling and freezing was just a response to the outrageous bounty of our garden and orchard.

All fall, I puzzled over my feverish preservation of food: what motivated this behaviour? The facile answer was that I hate to waste anything. The deeper answer lay in the weather.

When I read those climate projections years ago, I couldn’t imagine how they would touch daily life. But millions across the world this year have not simply been touched, they’ve been walloped. We’re sitting in front row seats for global climate change. The world is groaning, trying to adapt to the strains and stresses we’ve introduced. Like an animal senseless in its pain, it is lashing back.

Our personal version of the worldwide distress was a smoke-choked summer spent on evacuation alert. Even in December, this inland rain forest is struggling with the aftermath of outrageous summer heat and an ongoing drought. Of course, this is a minor inconvenience when compared to Puerto Rico, the Cariboo region of BC, Yemen and South Sudan, Mexico, Houston and the Columbia Gorge, Iran and Iraq, Delhi and Beijing. Flood, fire, famine; air pollution, earthquake, hurricane, scorching heat: it feels as if nature has gone rogue in a whirl of intemperate activity.

If you are brave, listen to the weather reports whenever a new storm is arriving somewhere. The endless catalogue of the horrors ahead is intended to tell us that we should be afraid. Very afraid.

It breaks my heart, this dread we are cultivating. It’s no wonder we suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder. How can we love something when we’re terrified of it? Why bother learning about trees when they’re all going to die anyway (and/or fall on us)?

But loving or not loving is a choice, albeit a difficult decision when you’re shaking with fright. A place to start: love this earth enough to witness its generosity. Thank each and every tree and plant that bloomed and fruited, every drop of rain that came when it was needed, the immense effort expended to keep life on track. Celebrate with wonder, awe and gratitude the planet’s commitment to fecundity. Remember that in the midst of its own dislocation and injuries, this living world still provides for its constituents.

There are two other choices I have made as a way of dealing with distress and foreboding: they are curiosity and trust. When I got curious about why this was such a productive year, I learned that when trees reproduce with vast abundance it’s more likely a desperate attempt to keep the species alive than a sign of health. In fact, the wealth of my pantry came from plants and trees who were stressed. This knowledge kindled a gut-felt kinship for the scrawny old plum in the front yard whose gaunt branches birthed boxes and boxes of deep purple plums. That plum tree shows me that anxiety is not a reason to quit; it’s a cue telling me that now is the time to give it all away.

And finally, trust. Not trust that everything will get better in my lifetime, but trust that I have a part to play in the healing of the world. Trust that I am a particular and necessary part of the solution, not just some nasty parasite.

I am trying to keep firmly in mind and heart that my small mortal life is to be spent in the service of life, here on the blue-green mystery in which we live and move and have our being. Like that ancient plum tree, the goal is to ripen all the fruit I can. My aspiration: life full-on and flat-out.


© 2018 Mary Therese DesCamp          Reprint with acknowledgment, please

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