Frosts and Storms, Praise the Lord

On bad weather, suffering, and patience

We have not had the best couple weeks of weather in the Ozarks. On April 24—the latest of several dates I have found for our average last frost date, and a good three weeks after the last night that it had even threatened frost—we had a hard freeze, with temperatures at 28 and lower.

Although I covered plants, brought pots indoors, and even went so far as to run a sprinkler on my apple trees all night of the frost to ice them over and protect the fruitlets, the garden saw no small amount of damage. The tender growing shoots of many of our shrubs flopped over, sometimes so strongly that they broke. The mulberry tree, despite cover, lost all its new leaves and flowers. Green buds on persimmons and green fruits on cherry bushes turned brown. Asparagus that had begun to poke above ground collapsed into mush. Peach blossoms mostly disappeared. The apples appear to have made it through the frost, but little else escaped damage.

A few days later, rising temperatures brought the sort of storm I grew up referring to as a “gullywasher.” Our upland property was spared the flash flooding that touched many in our county, but the deluge did have its effect on our garden. Our vegetable garden is on some of the most sloping land we have—a dangerous situation for the topsoil when heavy rain comes. Aware of this risk, we had planted a cover crop, but evidently not densely enough. The force of water moving across the ground swept woodchip mulch off the paths, carrying it into beds and creating large swirls of chips below patches of bare soil. It dug rivulets and gullies into the garden, moving rhubarb seedlings and beans I had planted a few days before. In several places so much soil shifted that previously buried chunks of limestone lay exposed at the bottom of a gouge like pebbles on the bed of a stream.

Mercifully, this winter a description that I encountered of farming in the Andes inspired me to semi-terrace these beds by lining the downhill side with rock, and so the the topsoil was not lost, just moved. In a sense the rain even helped us level out the beds slightly, improving their long-term position on the slope, hopefully.

Well, we kept our apples and even most of our topsoil despite the weather. Still, events like these distress me, perhaps more than they should. My garden is still new to me, and it is difficult to say “next year” if a crop disappears that I haven’t tasted before, or a bed is damaged after my hard work putting it into place. I weather these events, sometimes, even worse than my garden. I am still learning patience.

The theologian Paul Hinlicky uses the term “patiency” to signal that human beings possess not just the ability to act—agency—but the ability to endure. We are not the protagonists in the drama of creation, but background actors, those required by role and circumstance to take what comes to us. We must endure just as surely as we act. We need not like it, it is simply how things are.

So, then, the hail. The summer heat. The frosts and storms, those unquestionable agents that act upon us for all our protest. They speak praise, without a doubt, in doing what they must do.

Gardeners ought to endure the vicissitudes of the weather humbly; we garden to learn, among other things, patiency, submission to the things that lay outside our control. What better teacher than a late frost or a sudden downpour? I’ll take my lesson, but I’ll be darned if I will like it. Life lessons are well and good, but peaches are more filling.
My shoulders are not especially broad, nor is my patiency especially refined. Still, I will endure, and endure, and grow what I can and eat it, complain when I must, and endure.