This post originally appeared on Medium.com
I grew up in Illinois in a non-gardening house. I remember my parents maybe trying to grow some tomatoes back in the day, but for the most part I wasn’t raised around cultivating food. I have no framework for how much time, care, and concern it takes to nurture a seed into a fruit-bearing plant.
A few years ago, while still living in Illinois, my wife and I decided that we were going to grow some bell peppers and tomatoes in our back yard. We ripped out some thorny bushes masquerading as landscaping, bought some dirt (which is a ridiculous endeavor), and planted some seeds. For the first few weeks, we watered these precious potential foodstuffs, monitoring the soil for weeds. But, since neither of us were super committed to eating tomatoes or bell peppers at that point, we ended up forgetting about those plants most days. We would go out to check to see if they were doing the work of growing all by themselves, but other than that, we ignored these plants.
And they did grow. Not to the point of yielding their full potential, but still we picked a few tomatoes and peppers in our own backyard without really having to do any work at all. This is because Illinois has a climate conducive to growing vegetables. It is hot and humid with plenty of rain to help water the crops. Really all one needs to do to get a marginally decent harvest is to plant a seed in Illinois.
Not so in Colorado.
We now live in northern Colorado, just east of the front range of the Rocky Mountains. It is an arid and dry climate, with 300 days of sunshine. Where we are in particular gets less rain than the cities that surround us because of meteorological realities I am not really interested in studying.
To grow plants where we are is work, because the environment isn’t conducive to growth.
I started my garden this Spring with a commitment to grow foods that I like to eat, that I eat regularly, and that seem relatively simple (at least they would be simple to grow in Illinois). I planted carrots, baby spinach, and green beans first, tilling the soil and planting the seeds to the prime depth for maximal growth. I watered these seeds every morning and pulled out those pesky life stealing weeds that were a death knell to veggies in the high desert. When a late May snow storm came, I went to the store, bought some plastic tarps, and covered my plants, hoping to keep them from dying before they even got the chance to live.
Later I planted butternut squash (see above) and tomatoes, and four foot long rows of jalapenos and cayenne peppers. I was surprised at how quickly the butternut squash sprouted. I continued for weeks to water these plants, telling myself that the hard work would pay off.
But then, summer happened and I got lazy. We went out of town and I didn’t enlist anyone to water my garden. By the time August rolled around, everything was approaching death, if not dead already.
Growing vegetables in northern Colorado isn’t really hard work, to be honest. It’s long work. It’s patient work. It requires consistency and mindfulness. Colorado’s climate doesn’t allow for anything less.
Our World Is Colorado-Like
The same could be said about cultivating diverse relationships in our current global political climate, right? The climate is not conducive to forming constructive and meaningful relationships across lines of religious, political, or cultural difference. There is no natural source of hope — it seems all we feed ourselves is despair, division, and fear. This is not an Illinois sort of situation in which we can just sit back and things will get slightly better with or without our involvement. We no longer have that luxury. If we continue to live in such a way, without finding ways to breath life into situations approaching death, we will see deeper divides, more desperate circumstances, and little to no hope for peace across lines of difference.
I, for one, think that to participate in this sort of human to human reconciliation is what it means to be Christian. It is hard work, in that it is long work that requires patience, consistency, and mindfulness. We can’t afford to ignore our neighbors, strangers, and enemies and hope that the world sorts things out on its own. If we want to see real things change, we need to energetically engage with the diversity around us — political, racial, and religious.
The goal of these sorts of conversations and relationships can not, and must not, be laced with a desire to convert the ‘other’ to become more like us. We will get into that next time. Until then, recognize the need for listening, understanding, and conversations with those whom you despise the most. We need to start the humanizing work of getting to know our neighbors before it is too late.