Savoring Leaflessness by Ryan Koch

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I am still attending to hibernating trees these days, in what feels like the end of a winter (or the end of winter.) I am enjoying lifelessness while it lasts. On a recent day spent hiking with my family I was surprised to see so much sky. The leaves remain fallen, shades of brown. All over the trail they were busy decomposing, returning to something elemental, a conspiracy of decay. Each of my footfalls seemed to hasten their demise, or at least encourage a process already underway.

Looking up was another story. The bare branches stand ready, welcoming this warmer air. And because of their dormancy, we were able to see valleys that are usually obstructed by leaves. And because of all the recent rain, we were able to hear water chattering all around us. The streams were up. We crossed one three times, glad for such a crystalline interruption.

And can I brag on my companions? This hike got a little longer than we meant for it to, yet our whining was minimal. A large puppy pulled me most of the way, so my attention was on the trail, the leash, the next step, the pace. It was our son who said he needed to slow down and take it all in. I was glad to hear that he was overwhelmed by the fullness all around us, the wild decomposition that begins anew with every thaw, and the branches uplifted in praise. It is a lot to take in, this forest bath. Weren't we so glad to be outside?

Notes On Dormancy by Ryan Koch

Trees know what to do in winter

Trees know what to do in winter

As a gardener of food-bearing annual plants, I have been a slow convert to the wisdom and rhythm of the perennials all around me. In the fall it was the urban forest of deciduous trees that impressed me most. These trees had taken up their chlorophyll and left their leaves to dry out in a burst of color. Then, after a number of windy days, the leaves were released to go build soil (or in our city’s context, to be dutifully gathered and disposed of.) This is a slow symphony. After the wash of color and falling leaves we enjoy a coda, bare branches reaching in all directions, glaring in the winter sun. We see nests previously concealed. We see the cold sky unobstructed. There is a clarity on a crystal cold morning that will focus one’s thoughts on elemental things: this icy gate; a cold crunching underfoot; the pale sun in the southern sky at noon. 

    I can’t help but feel touched by this dormancy. The growing season is done. Growth itself ceases for a moment. The long nights are not a burden as soon as I accept them as they are: dark; cold. I see nature resting. So I rest too.

    The work of Seedleaf, the growing and sharing of food, also becomes distilled in this quiet season. We are not growing food at our community gardens, but we are doing small things to nourish the soil. We continue to compost food waste. We continue to offer workshops to help neighbors learn how to make their homes centers of production, not just centers of consumption. We spend time listening to neighbors and stakeholders in hopes that we can have a more engaging new year. We consider the recent past and wonder about what programs and projects should be developed, and which should be pruned. 

    The work continues. The planning evolves. Big ideas from just a couple of years ago (new full time staff person; the Urban Farm) are now coming to fruition. And we have more exciting things to roll out in the new year. Winter is such a short season. Soon things will be leafing out and setting fruit. For now, the anticipation grows but the plants do not. They wait and watch. Let us emulate them. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How the Light Gets In by Ryan Koch

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We approach the winter solstice. With less and less daylight, I feel myself craving sunshine lately. I celebrate any sunny hour, and I try to make an excuse to go out and be in it. I do this slyly too, somewhat embarrassed to be so creaturely after all. This is not terribly professional.

But sunrise seems so late, and sunset comes so early, I notice that other lights are turning my head. Any light will do. I have never taken courage from Christmas tree lights, or candles. Candles seem so brave this year! Darkness encroaches, and these small, winking lights join our whispering, our conviction that something brighter must be on the way.

At a recent Advent service I had the chance to walk silently to the center of a spiral, a string of lights wound around fir branches on the floor of a dark room. I carried an unlit candle, a symbol of the darkness in me, my concerns, my griefs. At the center of the spiral was a small candle. I borrowed that flame and I turned around. Now I was a light bearer. 

I noticed that evening how the light encouraged me. Candles lit by friends and strangers, the lights on the floor--all this seemed like a bright conspiracy. It helped that my glasses are so terminally scratched. On the grey, weak sun days, it hardly matters what state my poor lenses are in. But on this dark night, the small lights twinkle and shine, brightening beyond their power to do so, just because of my need and my poor vision.

The longest night is upon us, but we need not fear the deepest dark. We can carry our own light out into the dim days. We can continue on in generosity. We can celebrate with friends and family and strangers and share our small light, assured that we are not alone, and that the darkness does not have the final word.