Rounding a curve near my home, I glanced at a garden I pass every day. Tassels from the corn stalks reached to the heavens. My eyes lingered a moment longer than usual, captivated at the sight. Wasn’t it just a few days ago I tapped my brakes and narrowed my eyes, playing “name that plant” in my head?
The next day, I took a different road and saw a different garden I hadn’t seen before. Endless rows of corn leaves and, again, tassels stretching to the sky, reflected the late afternoon sun.
My finger tapped the glass as I called my children’s attention to the planting. From the back seat, my son asked, “Mom, why isn’t our corn as tall as theirs?”
A budding fifth grader, working in the garden with Mom doesn’t pass for a fun summer activity anymore, but this year one crop motivated him to slip on his dirty shoes and join me in the garden – corn.
After the first harvest of the first season, he couldn’t get enough. Crunchy kernels in his teeth and salty butter dripping down his chin, it was as if he discovered a new vegetable in an entirely different classification from the store-bought corn on the cob he had tasted on occasion.
He awaited my reply, and the first reason why our tallest corn stalks hadn’t reached my knees yet came out easily. “I planted the corn later so it wouldn’t ripen for harvest while we are on vacation.” Simple enough.
But the second reason caught my tongue in my throat.
The truth was, our first planting hardly germinated for unknown reasons. And the ones that did sprout looked more like stray hairs on a balding head. Thankfully the replant fared better, but by then my projected harvest date started slipping further and further into summer.
He seemed satisfied by my answer, but I could feel both of our longings in the silence.
The next day, sweat beads congregated on my skin as I dropped white seeds into a furrow. Is this the third or fourth time I’ve planted beans in the same place this year? The heavy downpours of April and May flooded this row more than once before the seeds could come up for air.
Then, once the soil dried out and my newest sprouts reached to grab the trellis, I caught rabbits leaping through the wires of the electric fence surrounding the garden, unscathed. But the damage had been done. To avoid further loss, my husband and I built a temporary barrier for the beans using chicken wire and survey stakes, hoping this effort would give the beans a fighting chance.
Logic assured me our corn and beans lagged behind other gardeners mainly due to events beyond my control. But many days my head hung in exasperation and defeat. Normally one excited to see others’ backyard gardens, the sight became a source of shame for me.
Uncontrollable circumstances and comparison to others’ success can combine to create the perfect storm threatening to blow over our efforts and dreams. But the real test, I think, is how we choose to respond to the storm.
Give up? Or resolve to keep going? Keep doing the same things and hope for a different result? Or pivot in our approach and methods in the pursuit of our goal?
A few weeks after the conversation with my son, we sat in the back yard enjoying a summer evening. I looked toward the garden, my eyes catching on the Y-shaped leaves erupting from the ground. About knee-high now, I called his attention to the growing corn stalks. Then I squinted to see bean leaves stretching to the trellis.
Yes, we will harvest several weeks after our neighbors. But because we didn’t give up, we will harvest.