For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.
— Ecclesiastes 3:1
Here in upstate New York living on the land necessarily means living seasonally. From April through October the work is outward, visible and incessant as we prepare beds, plant, weed, water, weed, harvest, weed…. Haying season always has the feel of an emergency, but somehow in spite of tractor malfunctions and weather fluctuations we always manage to get the hay we need in before the rain comes. Throughout the growing season guests come in to help with the work and learn how it’s done so they can go home and start gardens or farms of their own. Sometimes I find this abundance of good work rich and satisfying. Sometimes it just feels exhausting.
Then winter comes, the guests depart, the garden freezes and everything slows down. To an outside observer it might seem that we’re not doing much. We catch up on repairs and record-keeping that lapsed during the busy time. We order seeds and clean tools. We think about what went wrong and why and try to research solutions. We think about our purpose, whether we’re keeping faithful to it or whether we’ve lost sight of it in the daily hurry to get things done. We get enough rest to recharge us for the next busy season. This fallow time is essential, and we need to use it wisely. If we kept working at summer speed year-round we could easily become exhausted, frantic and distracted. If we filled that time with pointless amusements we’d reach the next growing season without the energy and clarity we need. We have to let ourselves stop being busy without letting ourselves stop being attentive.
I’m trying to remember this basic truth in my mental and spiritual work as well as my physical work. Some times are obviously fruitful, replete with new ideas, new relationships forming and new projects to undertake. Other times my prayer life and my relationships with other people feel distant or empty and I am afraid of being, and of looking, barren. I am learning, slowly, to respect these fallow times, not to try to force a new life that isn’t there, but to remain prayerful and attentive to the larger pattern which I forget so easily in busy seasons.