Quitting Time

Quitting Time

November 19 2020

I read an article that said the best time to retire is never. I agree, with any luck, I’ll lie down in my porch swing in my 90’s, gazing mindlessly at my garden’s last fall colors, go to sleep and never wake up. What a way to go. Until such time, I hope to just keep on working in my gardens. In my case, this isn’t a huge shift from the farm work I’ve done all my life. The biggest difference is that I no longer make any money from my work, but it’s still work-a labor of love. And one needs a reason to get up in the morning.

To me, the greatest gift of gardening is to find a connection with the natural rhythms of life, where time is measured is seasons and the jobs you must do when nature dictates. Nature is not cruel, nor beneficent, simply indifferent. Spring will bring the bright green shimmer of new leaves on the trees or a five minute hailstorm may wipe out a summer’s worth of work. Either way, it’s got nothing to do with you and you’ve not no control over it. But that acceptance is a blessing of sorts, knowing you can’t control everything is a good lesson to learn.

There is indeed a time to plant and a time to harvest and you must align your desires with these. You will know both the pleasures and pain of hard physical labor and you will grow strong; though maybe bent and twisted like the venerable bristlecone pines of the high mountains of the west.

I was recently privileged to visit Great Basin National Park in Nevada and walk among these trees. Three and four thousand years old, they grow on dry and rocky hillsides subjected to bitter cold and endless wind. They are the ultimate testament to perseverance and acceptance.

You can grow these pines in your garden-good drainage and full sun are essential and once established they are very drought tolerant. Don’t overwater, and be patient, really patient, really really patient. Maybe your grandchildren can carry on being patient! They can take centuries to reach maturity. Bristlecone pines have the ability to survive partial dieback. One of the trees I saw had only one strip of bark leading to one live branch. The rest of the tree was dead. These trees may actually take longer to die than it took them to grow to maturity.

Should I plant one in my yard, I will never see it grow big, but life goes on with or without me. That’s the way that the world goes round.

Bristlecone pine, pinus aristata, zone 2, 20-30’ tall x 15-20’ wide