Again, and yet again

By Glenda | June 8, 2010

Like the storm troopers in the movie Star Wars, they were in the multitudes and they were marching out in all directions, much to my horror.  I stood in shock, watching them, as they moved.

Squash beetles.  Overnight they had taken the life from every beautiful green squash plant that I had so carefully planted, fed, watered, those lush broad-leaved plants that had been producing  tender, delicious squashes every single day.   Yellow crooknecks and perfect zucchinis.  Now every plant was dead.

It was a stealth attack.  I was taken completely by surprise.  One day the plants were perfectly healthy, the next day they lay wilted as though someone had poured scalding water on them.

I rushed back inside the house to read up on what would cause squash to wilt.  I was informed in book and on internet to look underneath the leaves for little eggs, to look in the stem for points of entry, and to watch for mature beetles.  If many mature beetles were present, it was too late, the book said, burn the plants, beetles and all!

I went back out to the garden, to one of the squash plants, and I turned over the pitiful leaves that were so drained of greenness  that they reminded me of  the washed out watercolor in one of my “oops” attempts to rescue a botched painting.  There was no rescuing the squash plants, however.  There, under every broad squash leaf, were hundreds of little hooded beetles.  In horror, I shook the first plant.  And that’s when the beetles fell off the plant in their dozens, their hundreds, their masses; they descended, and began their march, in waves, in lines, out in all directions.  It was amazing.  Chilling.  It reminded me of too much else happening in the broader world.

I confess, I wept.  I know it may sound silly to the rest of you.  But I had worked so hard in that garden, and each of those plants were sweet spirits that I had nurtured, spoken with, pampered, and been privileged to know as I harvested the fruit of their and my collaboration.  Bright yellow and rich green squashes.  Now all destroyed.

Then, after much flailing around, making useless attempts to stop the spread of the beetles to other parts of my garden, I took the dead plants to be burned, along with whatever beetles remained on the plants (yes, I confess, I did it; I was outside my usual realm of reason and compassion, telling those beetle marauders to burn in hell as far as I cared…), and getting paid for that thought by being attacked fiercely by ants and mosquitoes and a stinging fly, so that I retreated into the house in unending tears this time.  I was remarkably undone.

For two days, it was a real funk.  The “give it up, what’s the use, why keep trying…” routine that usually represents a “last straw” kind of incident, coming on the heels of many other discouraging issues. You know the feeling, perhaps?  It’s easy to come by these days, considering all the bad news on television and in our world, all the shock and distress that we have felt lately, the loss of hope and idealism, the frustration and grief, the many, many setbacks and tragedies.  It has all felt like “The Empire Strikes Back,” and now I had all these beetle storm troopers to prove it.

So, for awhile, I gave in to it.  The super slump.  What I sometimes designate as the “go to bed and pull the covers over your head“  time,  almost the “lie down in the snow and go to sleep and don’t get up” bit.  Don’t fight it.

I’m old enough and practiced enough to know that, for me, pretty soon the tide will change, the mood will shift, the momentum for hope will return. This morning it did.

I was out dutifully attending to the rest of the garden, now absent any squash plants, but otherwise flourishing.   And there, on the edge of the garden was a chunk of wood, a piece of partially charred pine.  It was a left over part of a burn pile from when the garden area was first being prepared for planting several years ago.  The tall, elegant pine tree that the charred chunk of wood came from had been, in its prime, a beautiful and flourishing tree, and then that tree had been taken down in a storm, had been chopped up, burned, hauled off, and all that was left of that grand tree was this bit of charred wood at the edge of my garden.  And there, in that chunk of wood, in a little hollow place, I happened to notice a tiny one-inch tall pine tree seedling that had sprouted in this unlikely, almost impossible location.

I knelt down beside it, mesmerized, and again I wept, this time in awareness of how nature herself, the whole enterprise of life, has to be brave, has to endure loss and keep going, has to never give up, has to renew itself over and over in the face of the most bizarre and maddening setbacks, has to be so prolific when it comes to hope.

This is life, I thought, this is how it is.  Not always as we like it, and not ever, perhaps, perfect.  Often heart-breaking and disappointing.  But always persistently carrying on, renewing itself, despite all odds.

Could this little seedling make it?  Who knows.  But some seedling will; the vast pine forests of this land and of the entire South are proof of it.  There is evidence that hope can be fulfilled, that persistence and endurance matter.  Everywhere around us is the evidence.

The core of the pine tree is referred to as “heart pine,” rich in sap and resin.  I hope my core, my heart, too, is still rich in the “juice” that keeps life going, keeps me going, the life force that overcomes the storm troopers, the undercover attacks, the unfairness, the absurdity of trying, the grief and self-pity that goes with loss.  I hope that each of us can continue to pace ourselves in ways that allow us to withdraw from the fray when we need to, to rest and prepare ourselves for renewal, and to be receptive to the images all around us of the redeeming quality of hopefulness.

Nature doesn’t give up.  The enduring spirit of the squash and the pine, and, yes, even the beetle, these don’t give up.  Neither shall the human spirit.  Neither shall the spirit of cooperation and the desire to reach common ground–between religions, between cultures, between nations, between parties, between species.  We shall continue, one tiny seedling at a time, one day at a time, one gentle act of hope or forgiveness or courage at a time, because we too are part of nature.  Even along with the frustration and the occasional retributions and the times we are less than charitable, we carry on with absurd hope.  We make up for our mistakes somehow, or we don’t, but we keep going.  We keep loving.  We keep hoping.  It is never over.  Life and hope endure.  Let it be so, even for me.

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