Up On Hawthorne Hill by Richard DeRosa

On Cutting Back

Tasks such as gardening, often a labor of love, take their toll on aging bodies. (Photo provided)

This is the time of year when several things cross my mind. I think of those lines in Frost’s wonderful poem, “After-Apple Picking,” where he admits to being “… overtired /Of the great harvest I myself desired.”

Not that we are burdened with a “great harvest” up here on the hill, but we do maintain a hefty assortment of gardens, among them two sizable vegetable gardens that meet most of our needs throughout the summer and provide us with ample supplies of storage crops for winter use. More than enough, in fact, to keep us in onions, garlic, potatoes, squash, beets and carrots while wintering in Arizona. Not much in the way of apple picking this year, although last year’s apple harvest reaped 19 gallons of tasty cider. One gallon left in the freezer, which will most likely make its way westward. But it is a lot of work, a labor of love of course.

We often labor ardently at tasks that take their toll on aging bodies buoyed by an energetic spirit that outpaces the body’s ability to keep up. Each fall, as harvest activities wane, I ask myself the same question. Is this the year we actually do cut back? Given my penchant for planting every inch of the garden, usually ending up with a lovely jungle of edibles (much to Sandy’s dismay), it seems that my gardening theory amounts to a conviction that more is more; less is neither acceptable nor aesthetically permissible. My gardening aesthetic brings to mind a notion in evolutionary theory known as the ‘tangled web.” Stuff grows pretty well in a crowd.

Cutting back is a sort of halfway measure. Giving up is out of the question. That is, until the spirit is so overwhelmed by a recalcitrant body that it gives way to the body’s insistence that things really must change. Not there yet. But where I am, finally, is at that point where cutting back makes a great deal of sense. I gave up plowing our long, steep driveway several years ago. Got a great, dependable guy down the road who takes care of that. No more tree felling, cutting, and splitting; lower back issues settled that matter. Usually about this time of year when, my friend Jim comes over for our weekly walk, we stroll by the gardens and right on key I say, “Really gonna cut back this year.” “Sure,” he says, knowing full well come spring that idea will have gone windward. Not so this time around. One feels in one’s bones the winds of inward change, senses an existential shift, a sort of internal rearrangement of priorities. One of those ineffable recognitions we all experience over a lifetime.

The time has come to actually cut back. Besides, less time spent slogging about the place opens up time for other pursuits. More time for reading, writing, thinking, or doing what I am very good at, probably one of my more productive activities, absolutely nothing.

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