Last Harvest

The hopeful message of a splash of color on a barren landscape

Posted in , Feb 22, 2008

Nothing would grow on the scarred land where the backhoe had dug up the earth on the far end of my property down by the creek.

More than a year had passed since I had to put in a septic tank at my mountainside home, and I kept telling myself that it would take time for the ground to heal. The oak and hickory would reseed, the tiny acorns and nuts would sprout, but spring had come and gone, and all I could see from my dining-room window was a barren swath of brown earth and rocks. Even the wildflowers I had seeded didn't come up.

If my friend and neighbor Doris were alive, she would have been able to make something grow. On a warm day we loved to go down to the creek and watch the light play off the dancing water. Eventually, shadows would slip over the soft green hills. "I love this place just the way God made it," Doris would say in a near-whisper, "with things always growing."

In her garden Doris grew lettuce, red cabbage, bell peppers, tomatoes. At the end of the previous summer—it seemed an eternity ago now—she brought me a big box of tomatoes. "Girl, there's every kind of tomato you could ever want," she said. More than I could ever eat. I had to dump the ones that spoiled down by the creek.

No one knew she was dying then. I certainly didn't. Sometimes she made excuses, "I'm just a little tired, Fran." She wouldn't go on a hike or a picnic. She wasn't outside in her garden as much. When I asked, she said she was getting over something. Nothing to worry about. Maybe if I'd known that that was her last harvest, I would have canned all those tomatoes. I wouldn't have chosen to dig a septic tank. It could have waited.

The backhoe came the same month Doris died. My heart wrenched each time the powerful teeth grasped one of the young trees and ripped it from the ground. Lord, I prayed, this is too much after the death of my friend. To lose my wooded view and my neighbor all at once. I tried to imagine what Doris would say—that the land would heal, that God would bring it back more glorious than it had been before. "Just wait," I could almost hear her say.

I was tired of waiting. I wanted Doris to be here with me, to tell me the names of the birds I saw out my window and the critters rushing through the brush. I wanted Doris to bring me the bounty from her garden. I wanted to go on walks with her down by the creek. I wanted her here to comfort me, impossible as that was.

Then one morning I looked out my window and caught sight of a small red spot at the edge of the creek. What's that? I wondered. Had something blown onto my property?

I put on my boots and went down to investigate. Not till I came to the edge of the bank did I see it—a tangle of tomato vines spilling across the ground. Right where I'd dumped those spoiled ones, the fruit of Doris's last crop. Every kind of tomato you could ever want.

I felt Doris close to me. I could hear her saying in a near-whisper that even after a season of loss, God can heal—just as he makes dry land flourish again.

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