Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Persephone Days

Plants and humans have a lot in common. Like humans, plants need water, nutrients, and air to live. 

And light. We all need the light.

Growing up on a family farm in South Carolina, my dad always pointed out the winter solstice or “shortest day.” It marked a turning point in his seasonal mindset. Sure, he had a farmer's seasonal awareness for planning farm activities. But for both my parents, who suffered from seasonal depression, the winter solstice was more about the longest night than the shortest day. The winter solstice marked a point at which things would get better. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, better. With each passing day, the long night would be just a little shorter and the short day just a little longer. Some of us tend to think of growing seasons in terms of temperature only. We don't have lush winter gardens because its too darn cold! But the length of the day is almost as important as the temperature. I had a vague awareness of plant light needs from my childhood on the farm, but I didn't know those short winter days had another name until my garden friend Dana told me a few weeks ago. (Thanks, Dana!)

Enter the Persephone Period

Thursday, March 18, 2021


You may sow your crops and reap them, but in the seventh year, let it rest and lie untilled. In that year the land will provide food for the poor, and what they don't take will go to the wild animals. Do the same with your vineyards and olive groves. (Exodus 23:10–11, The Inclusive Bible)

The Fallow

by Anna Wickham

Now, Tiller, hold your grain,
Leave her to sun and rain
And the kind air
Then trench her with a well-judged measure
Of feeding pleasure,
And give her peace
To dream of her increase
And your good care.
Well might you reap miraculous yield
From such a happy, nourished field!

We planted and tended through spring, summer, fall, and a month of winter at the Parktown garden. We also spent weeks digging up tenacious landscape fabric and layering cardboard, hub-grown compost, and chipped tree mulch. The areas we didn't plant lay fallow. Our hope was in the theology of the compost, hope that rich compost made from things decaying and discarded would resurrect some unnaturally compacted and lifeless soil that had lived a previous life as a preschool playground.

Fallowing soil, or leaving it unplanted for a period of time, is a recognized land or garden management technique. It's good for the soil. It's regenerative. Depleted soil nutrients and beneficial microorganisms are regenerated in a season of rest. This sounds such a positive thing that I was surprised to pick up a distinctively negative vibe when I looked up the word “fallow” online. Just take a look at some of the synonyms below.

 Fallow (from Google's dictionary, accessed 2/18/2021,


1. (of farmland) plowed and harrowed but left unsown for a period in order to restore its fertility as part of a crop rotation or to avoid surplus production. "incentives for farmers to let the land lie fallow in order to reduce grain surpluses"

Similar: unused, undeveloped, dormant, resting, empty, bare, neglected, untended, unmanaged

Opposite: cultivated

2. inactive. "long fallow periods when nothing seems to happen"

Similar: dormant, quiet, slack, slow, flat, idle, inert, static, stagnant, depressed, unproductive, unfruitful

Opposite: productive.

Bare. Neglected. Unmanaged. Slack. Stagnant. Depressed. Unproductive. All the things we don't want to be. All the things the world tells us we shouldn't be. And not at all what we imagined when we pulled away the impermeable fabric and layered the compost with dreams of what we could plant in future.

Digging a little deeper into concepts of crop rotation and soil health, we stumbled upon Shmita. Shmita is the Jewish sabbatical year in a seven-year agricultural cycle. Although commonly translated as “sabbatical year,” Shmita literally means “release.” Unlike many Jewish practices that call the individual to participate, Shmita requires the participation of the individual AND the community. Shmita is a time to put down some of our personal pursuits in support of communal good.

It is a year of reset, not just for the land but for all of us. A year of reflection. A year of respite to learn more about agricultural practices, but not to actively cultivate and plant. A year in which anything that reseeds or grows as perennial may be eaten by the deer and rabbits or harvested by anyone passing by for their personal consumption. Perhaps a year of community harvest? A year to forgive debts. Perhaps a year to let go of the grievances we so often carry as a burden? A year to listen to each other and the land. A year of release.

Shmita has a biblical basis in Torah. The seventh agricultural sabbatical year echos the seventh day of creation, the day on which God rested. Although the biblical explanation predates modern agricultural practices, there seems to be a modern Shmita renaissance. Shmita is discussed as a part of sustainable agriculture, as an approach to climate change, and as a call to environmental awareness and stewardship. During this 2020-2021 pandemic season, Shmita points some people toward rent forgiveness for people who are struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic.

In fact, so great is the Shmita renaissance that the Jewish nonprofit Hazon has started the Shmita Project. The goal of the Shmita Project is to “... animate conversation and change in the world, based on the values and teachings of Shmita and focus on environmental sustainability, rest and overwork, debt and debt relief, relationship to land, food and time....”

The Shmita Project put out a Shmita PSA, a commercial that is just cheesy enough to draw me in. Never did I imagine I could watch an online commercial for a Jewish spiritual agricultural practice that speaks to my pandemic heart so powerfully in Hebrew with English subtitles. You can watch it here:

The next Shmita year officially starts for the Jewish community on Rosh Hashana 2021 (September 6, 2021). From September 2021 to September 2022 thousands of Jews will make commitments to be a stronger community of compassion. At Parktown we're still learning about Shmita, a release and reset to learn about gardening and to build community and the soil the soil. Fallowing together. To leave her to sun and rain and the kind air and give her peace.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Broccoli soup trimmed down

I made my scrumptious cream of broccoli soup a few weeks ago, with a few substitutions borne of necessity.

I didn't have any fresh broccoli, but I had some fresh broccoli slaw that was purchased on sale and needed to be eaten.

We didn't have much cream in the house, and what we did have was earmarked for the morning cup o' joe, so I made a low-fat substitution. Skim milk. Lactose-free skim milk, even.

The end result was a somewhat thinner, somewhat lighter soup, chock full of fiber and goodness. Don't get me wrong - I still added butter and a splash of cream and shredded cheese, so this was not a deprivation soup. (You know those soups. You follow some weight-loss recipe you see as click-bait on Facebook and serve up a watery broth to wash down your self-loathing.)

I'd call the trimmed down version a success, maybe a runner-up or even a slimmer knock-kneed  Miss Congeniality in the soup pageant. But I still recommend you click on the link above and make the original full-fat full-flavor version if you can

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Change is psychological loss

Past me leaves messages for present or future me all the time. To tell the truth, past me can be a bit of a pain in the keister. In 2012, I left the comment below on J.D. Roth's personal blog in response to this post.

Hi JD – I read this over at Get Rich Slowly when it was first posted there. It’s a powerful presentation. I haven’t watched the video yet, but that’s next on my list because I want to hear the words in your own voice.

There’s so much good stuff here, but a couple of things really jumped out at me when I first read it at GRS. Sometimes people are so miserable that they look for “change” when what they really want and need is “growth.” The examples of longevity you give don’t have to be negative examples of sameness, do they? I think the best long-term relationships and the most successful businesses are those in which the parties grow and adapt to the changing world around them. Do you think there’s a danger of swinging too far to the change side and becoming less grounded?

Somewhere along the way I heard that “Change is psychological loss.” I think it was on a TV show years ago. (I just got a Google hit on “Cagney & Lacey.” Please say I haven’t held onto a line from Cagney & Lacey all these years.) You’ve gone through so many changes over the past few years, I’d be interested in your take on that “psychological loss” perspective.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Come and See! -- A Guest Post

Since it looks like I may have as many as three - maybe even four - readers, I figured the time was right to kick this high-flying blog up a notch with its very first Guest Post! Please welcome Sharon Schulze to the hallowed pages of Confabulosity. Some of you who know Sharon know that she is making a 2nd career move (after a respected and respectable career in academia) into divinity school and vocational calling to the ministry. She's still discerning that call. Is it to hospital or hospice chaplaincy? Is it to congregational ministry? Is it to non-profit directorship? I've got opinions, but in the end, I know it's up to Sharon and God to work it out.

Sharon delivered her first sermon last night, at a Lenten service at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Durham, NC. Though I know it was more powerful to hear the vocal delivery, she agreed to provide the text for me to share. Without further delay, here's "Come and See."

In preparing to speak tonight I looked over the five lessons for our Lenten services this year and something jumped out at me: the very broken women were the ones who forged ahead, who brought others to “Come and See” Jesus, while the men had a very difficult time hearing what Jesus was saying and sharing the good news.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Overcoming Inertia

Take a gander at Newton's first law (Law of Inertia):
A body at rest will remain at rest. A body in motion will continue in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

Holy apple-boy! Was Isaac Newton a physicist or a philosopher?

See, it's like this...I'm a body at rest. And I tend to remain at rest. Sometimes it seems my entire life has been ruled by the Law of Inertia. Resistance to change.

Maybe you can empathize. If you're like me, you've probably missed some opportunities because of inertia.

On the other hand, you may have also missed some catastrophes because of inertia.