For to the snow God says, ‘Fall on the earth’, and to the downpour and the rain, ‘Be strong.’ Out of the south comes the storm, and out of the north the cold. From the breath of God ice is made, and the expanse of the waters is frozen.
Job 37: 6, 9-10
Stubble of dried stalks, leafless shrubs and vines, calamus roots captive in a bucket of ice, unfamiliar shapes under contours of fresh snow – an overturned pot perhaps? The somewhat poetic translation of these verses from Job resonate – it’s winter in our New England, and in the Biblical Garden. The soil is frost-laden and unyielding; the garden is at rest, and the gardeners are watchful of the ever-so-slow increase of daylight, eagerly anticipating new beginnings and a fresh start. It’s a liminal space between the busyness of late autumn garden chores and the creative energy of spring, a quiet time to let go of the garden that was, and imagine the garden that could be.
But beneath the insulating snow cover that protects plants from biting winter winds, all is not as quiet as it seems. The nutrients from compost added to the garden in fall bring moisture and nourishment to legions of soil bacteria and other microorganisms that will convert products of plant decay into nitrogen, essential for plant nutrition. While many soil bacteria go dormant in winter, millions of microbes continue to break down tough cellulose to make nutrients available to plants. Freeze and thaw cycles break up compacted clods and work small seeds down into the soil for germination. Earthworms burrow below frost level and hibernate. Under the hard crust of frozen earth, while the garden sleeps, the soil dreams of spring.
For us too, winter is a waiting season of life, a time to pause and remember how blessed we are, an opportunity to be grateful for every moment. We may realize that the best moments could come now in these dark days, as we await the coming season’s growth, with its joys and its challenges, in our gardens and in our lives.
Michael Schlesinger is Temple Sinai’s Biblical Gardener. Mike has been gardening since he was eight years old. He used to grow grape vines and make wine when he lived in California. He now tends to our garden, continuing the traditions started by Catherine Walters.