Voices from the Past: The Seasons & Changes of Life

by Brooke Edwards

I’ve been thinking a lot about seasons lately. Fall has come with its changes in temperature, color, and daylight. My life has also seen a change in season. I recently transitioned from having one child and a full-time job to having two children and being home full time.

Early Latter-day Saint women knew a lot about seasons. I imagine seasonal changes in weather meant something entirely different for our pioneer sisters who didn’t have the comforts of modern central heating and cooling. If they weren’t one step ahead, using the current season to prepare for the next, these women were putting themselves at serious risk for illness, hunger, and thirst. For women who farmed, the seasons also directly impacted their source of income. An early winter or unusually dry summer could be devastating. So it’s no surprise those first LDS women spent a lot of time talking about plants and seasons, both in the abstract and the concrete. Take, for example, this stanza from a poem published in The Woman’s Exponent:

The humble and meek need not despair,

The field is large and the vineyard wide;

The worker is needed everywhere—

In the shady lanes and rough wayside.

Yes, workers are needed in every home,

For such as these there is always room—

To guide the feet of the erring youth,

And scatter the seeds of love and truth.[1]

And a recurring feature called “Floral Hints” offered tips to frontier women attempting to grow flower gardens as well as crops in uncultivated soil. One installment offered this advice: “Sweet-peas should be put into the ground early, as they will bear the wind and weather. . . . Add an outer circle every month, so that a continual bloom may appear.” [2]

The scriptures are full of agricultural analogies. Missionary work is explained through descriptions of fields that are “white already to harvest.”[3] The Savior taught about the divine worth of souls  and God’s promise to take care of his children by reminding us that the lilies “toil not,  neither do they spin.”[4] And, of course, Ecclesiastes reminds us that, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”[5] Modern scripture has also used seasons as a way to offer advice on navigating life’s ever changing course. James E. Faust stated, “Doing things sequentially—filling roles one at a time at different times—is not always possible, as we know, but it gives a woman the opportunity to do each thing well in its time and to fill a variety of roles in her life. . . . She may fit more than one career into the various seasons of life. She need not try to sing all of the verses of her song at the same time.”[6]

This has all been running through my mind as I’ve watched the leaves change and adjusted to my new routine. I’ve appreciated how significant the seasonal analogy for life can be. This thought I recently came across in a book struck me: “[T]he orchard can ripen all at once—education, career, romance, marriage, children—and time is at a premium. It becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to eat the apples all at once.”[7] As Elder Faust noted, “doing things sequentially . . . is not always possible” and so sometimes choices must be made as to what will be harvested, what will be half-eaten, and what will be left in the field to spoil.

I experienced a season where everything ripened “all at once” a few years ago. I graduated from law school, took the bar exam, had a baby, and started my first job in the legal field all within a few months’ time. Simultaneously, my husband’s start-up was developing and he made a job change. We also moved, were welcomed into a new ward, and I served in the Young Women presidency. Years of academic commitment were bearing fruit, and our daughter brought a sweet fullness and richness into our lives. It’s a season I look back on with a lot of joy. Time, however, was certainly at a premium. It took all our effort just to keep up with the harvest and that was only after leaving basketfuls of “crops” like hobbies, time with friends, and service outside of the church sitting largely uneaten in the field. In other seasons of my life, the crops have ripened one by one, allowing me to enjoy each one as they came along. As a young adult, college, a mission, and then my first writing job all came and went with few other responsibilities requiring my attention.

I’ve also experienced winter. After my husband’s business failed, we were left in a bleak financial situation facing years of debt and significant financial and emotional recovery. We hunkered down and waited for the coldest winds to blow over praying for a spring that felt like it would never come. It did, of course, as spring always does, and we started over again.

Right now I feel I’m in another spring. My children are still small, much like the green, new plants that come up through the soil in spring. They require a lot of energy and need constant attention and nourishment. Life is generally calm and sunny, with an occasional breeze that ruffles things up. I prepared for this season, working hard to help get our family to a place where we could afford for me to spend several months at home. And even when I do go back, our circumstances are such that balancing the two will likely be easier this time. Like my pioneer foremothers, however, I know that as much as I am enjoying this season, focusing on only one responsibility would be a mistake. If you get too busy in the fall enjoying the apples and the pretty leaves to remember to plant the bulbs then there won’t be any iris in the spring. And if you get too busy enjoying the iris in the spring to plant the vegetables, fall will come and go with just an empty plot of land.

In a season just around the corner, my kids won’t need quite as much attention and I don’t want to turn around and find the plot of land where I hoped to find opportunities in my community or in the workforce sitting barren and empty. And I’m always aware that unexpectedly early winter storms bringing medical bills, car repairs, or another job loss might mean a change in plans or immediate needs. So while my kids are the “crop” taking up most of my time and attention right now, I am deliberately carving out a few hours every month to tend to my career “plant,” too. I attend continuing education courses to keep my license current, I have volunteered some time with legal non-profits, and I serve on a community board with other women who practice law. Like my kids, my career “plant” is also small and really, really green. I have only a few years of experience under my belt, and I want to be able to turn around in the next season, whether that’s tomorrow or next year, and find that plant thriving and ready to be cultivated instead of wilted or dead. It’s so much easier to on-ramp from a place of motion (even if from a slow speed) than from a dead stop.

As I’ve thought about seasons, some other observations with potential applications to life have struck me:

  • Sometimes the seasons come predictably with average changes in temperature, the expected amount of water, and the precise amount of daylight needed to create ideal conditions for crops to grow. Sometimes, it’s like all the elements are working against you.
  • A lot of what is necessary to grow a successful garden is repetitive or mundane. Water and weed, water and weed, water and weed . . . over and over and over again. I feel this every day as I fight entropy in pursuit of an orderly home environment. Dishes and laundry, dishes and laundry . . . over and over and over again. But the daily chores at home, the nightly grind of homework in school, the constant battle to keep on top of email at the office—these mundane necessities lay the foundation for much more glamorous effort to pay off in big ways.
  • Some crops have “off” years. Raspberries, for example, only produce fruit every other year. It’s as if they have to save up energy through an extra cycle of seasons to make the fruit all the sweeter the following year. Taking time to recharge, reconnect, or sit with a decision and prepare before springing into action is sometimes a wise alternative to trudging through burnout.
  • Some crops are simply more time and energy intensive than others. Certain herbs can practically grow themselves given the right conditions. Almonds, on the other hand, require 2,100 gallons of water to produce just one pound of shelled product. Similarly, some relationships, people, church callings, course, or jobs just take more time. Acknowledging and embracing that fact can save a lot of frustration when it feels like one responsibility is taking up an unwarranted amount of your time. The trick is deciding which “almonds” in your life are worth the energy and which ones could be traded out for some hardy rosemary.
  • Some farmers choose to produce small amounts of a large variety of crops. Others choose to produce a large volume of just one or two. Some of us are generalists, some of us are specialists. Our workforce, wards and stakes, and communities need both. If you enjoy knowing a little about a lot of things, congratulate yourself on your versatility and find a position that allows you to own it. Don’t beat yourself up for not also having the time to become an expert. And if you are headed down a road of specialization in your field, don’t waste time berating yourself for all the tangential subjects or side hobbies you weren’t able to pursue. Focusing on all the ways you are excelling at whatever skill you’ve decided to master at is always a better way to reach your potential than noticing all the things you haven’t been able to make time for.
  • Growing the same crop for too long can deplete the soil. Alternating crops occasionally can keep the soil rich and able to nourish future plants. The life that makes sense to you today doesn’t have to make sense five years from now. Sticking to an old life plan that has grown stale just for the sake of sticking to the plan prevents you from introducing new vitality and experiences into your life.

I’d love to hear in the comments what observations from nature and other analogies you’ve found helpful as you juggle the various roles and relationships life has led you through. And what season in life you feel like you’re in. Are you harvesting fruit after a long season of hard work? Are you in winter waiting for the thaw? Are you busy in the warmth of spring or summer, tending to multiple crops, just trying to keep up with the weeding? Or, as I feel sometimes, are you still standing in the gardening aisle of the home improvement store trying to figure out what seeds to buy and where to find the fertilizer?

Whatever season I find myself in, I find hope in the fact that as a woman I am well prepared to take on whatever Mother Nature throws at me. Eve, after all, was among the first two gardeners—charged with tending the Garden of Eden and making it beautiful. And after she and Adam were driven from that beautiful place, Eve didn’t stand idly by while waiting for Adam to return alone with the harvest after he had been commanded to “till the earth” and “eat his bread by the sweat of his brow.” Instead, she went forth and “did labor with him.”[ 8] So I’m going to go grab a shovel. As our pioneer poet remarked, “The humble and meek need not despair, The field is large and the vineyard wide, The worker is needed everywhere.”[9]

 

Sources:

  1. “Stars and Flowers,” Esther A. Bennion, The Woman’s Exponent, May 15, 1881, available at http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/WomansExp/id/34949/rec/1
  2. “Floral Hints,” The Woman’s Exponent, April 4, 1874, available at http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/WomansExp/id/24027/rec/1
  3. Doctrine & Covenants 4:4
  4. Luke 12:27
  5. Ecclesiastes 3:1
  6. James E. Faust, “A Message to My Granddaughters: Becoming ‘Great Women,’” Ensign, September 1986, available at https://www.lds.org/ensign/1986/09/a-message-to-my-granddaughters-becoming-great-women?lang=eng
  7. Ramona Zabriskie, Wife for Life: The Power to Succeed in Marriage, Kindle edition, page 22.
  8. Moses 5:1
  9. “Stars and Flowers,” Esther A. Bennion, The Woman’s Exponent, May 15, 1881.

 

4 Comments on “Voices from the Past: The Seasons & Changes of Life

  1. Wonderful insights. You’ve captured so many of my same feelings and presented then in an easy to understand analogy. I love it. I have small kids and am getting ready to head back to the workforce. One of my favorite plant stories is when I had these gorgeous climbing rose bushes. I trimmed them here and there, but they grew too much vine and not enough flower. Finally I decided to cut the bushes way back. It was very difficult. For weeks they looked pathetic, but they grew back to a good height and produced more roses than ever! Roses need to be cut back often in order to keep blooming regularly and avoid getting too stalky.

    • Oh I love that! Sometimes I feel pathetic like those rosebushes but cutting back can often bring beautiful results.

  2. A few years ago when nothing seemed to be working out for us after trying so hard to just make a living, I found a card with a picture of a girl trying to push a boulder that was much to large for her to even budge. I decided that we were like the little girl in the picture. Rather than trying to push the boulder and experience no success where we were at, we decided to stop fighting and go around the boulder. We moved to a different state and started out in the same place we were, but things quickly changed for the better. I’m glad we stopped trying to fight the boulder and just peacefully moved on.

    • This is great. I’m so glad you found success in your new location!

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