The natural cycle of birth, death, and rebirth happens to include death. A word that often brings up imagery associated with fear, pain, and horror, “death” is actually a necessary and beautiful part of life that our modern culture could stand to embrace and honor more.
When I first moved to the farm, looking out into the grove I saw piles of “leaf litter” or dropped leaves from the avocado trees. I thought to myself that it would look so much prettier and more manicured if all those leaves were raked up and moved away. But I soon learned that the leaf litter, which sometimes reaches two feet in height, is made up of decomposing leaves in various stages of decay, hosting countless beneficial microorganisms, insects, and even dropped avocados that deliver nutrients back into the soil. The leaves also keep the ground covered, allowing moisture to stay in place rather than quickly dry up. In fact, the piles of leaf litter are critical to the health of the grove but my suburban-born eyes were unaccustomed to seeing beauty in the “mess” of the landscape.
Embracing the cycle of death is one way of embracing faith. We can let go of what dies, knowing that life will spring forth once again. I admit that I sometimes feel a sense of loss when a crop is harvested knowing that I won’t again taste the fruit of that tree for a whole year. But I also know that I WILL get to taste its fruit again and I’ll appreciate it far more since I cherish the tree all year long. The tree and its particular fruit come to mark the seasons and the years of my life, and they live in my memories.
For example, I know that in June when nearly all of the avocados have been harvested, there’s no reason to despair because the fig trees will soon explode with ripe fruit so delicious that the birds, bees, beetles, and field mice all want their share. And in August when the heat gets oppressive, I will have the joy of a juicy lychee fruit refreshing my palate. In late fall when the crops are waning and it feels like the season for fruit is finished, along comes the blessed persimmon, the last tree in the orchard to ripen with it’s sweet orange glow like the sunset of the fruit season.
All trees that bear fruit must drop what ripens and move on to the next phase of their life cycle. The same goes for our human lives. We must also drop things that no longer serve our best interests, and failure to do so is cause for a constant loop of suffering. The simple lessons of nature and life on the farm have so much wisdom to impart. The tree does not mourn the dropping of its blossoms or the final loss of its last piece of fruit. It knows of the falling away, the shedding of the old, the inevitability and the beauty of death. We too experience a thousand little deaths in every year, every day, every sunrise and sunset and every moment that passes.
Even our biology embraces death. As the human brain develops, connections and synapses are formed as we learn and grow. Many of these connections will become patterns that are used over and over again like a well-traveled hiking trail. What isn’t often discussed is that the pruning of connections is as important as the formation of them for a healthy brain. We must prune away the pathways that don’t lead to success. We must prune our roses to ensure a robust bloom. We must prune our fruit trees to channel the energy into the strongest limbs. Pruning is death that is inevitably followed by rebirth. Those who are wise embrace death as a natural cycle of nature; on the farm, and in our lives.
One of the most profound aspects of living on a farm is developing a relationship with the natural cycles of the Earth, our Great Mother. This relationship with the land and seasons was central to the lives of our ancestors, as they had to plan out their survival in terms of food, weather, and shelter. They knew how to maximize their resources and were masters of preservation, storage, and extracting the most nutrition possible from their food.
Today, the majority of the planet’s inhabitants live in urban areas and many people have access to constant commerce—nearly anything one could want is available delivered to their door in a matter of days, and grocery stores are stocked with every manner of produce during all seasons of the year. This is truly an incredible thing that has never before happened in the history of the world, and something many of us take for granted. And while convenient, a downside is that many people miss out on a relationship with the Earth’s natural cycles.On the farm, understanding and honoring the natural cycles is crucial for healthy stewardship of the land and for getting the most abundant crop possible. In California, where water is scarce and expensive, it’s even more important to be prepared for the different cycles to ensure profitability and sustainability.
Activities on the farm are different depending on whether it’s the season of growth, harvest, or dormancy. Each cycle benefits from different types of support. When growing, or budding out, the trees need pollination support. Keeping beehives on the property promotes effective pollination while also supporting a waning global population of bees. And sometimes there’s even extra honey.When the fruit is growing on the trees, one of the most important activities is pest control. On an organic farm, this is when we employ the use of beneficial insects rather than use toxic pesticides. For example, Green Lacewing larvae feed on Thrips, an insect that damages the skin of the avocado. So we monitor the plants for signs of infestation, and if needed we manually introduce Lacewing larvae to each tree, eradicating the destructive pest by employing a beneficial one.
Around the time of the spring harvest, the leaves of the avocado tree are replaced with a new set that grows in. This is the time when we fertilize the groves with manure, giving them a dose of nourishment for the growing season.
Water is always a concern in a dry place like Southern California. Though our soils are rich, drought drives up the demand and cost of irrigation. We give the trees water at different intervals depending on the time of year and have sophisticated sensors that take readings at several different depths to let us know when the plants need water.
The landscape of the farm changes throughout the year, much the way the seasons inform our changes in clothing and recreational activities. Since we rely on the farm to produce, our synergy with it goes even deeper than typical seasonal changes that everyone experiences. We become more aware of the seasonal shifts and even the moon’s monthly cycle of birth, growth, death, and rebirth.
The main lesson in nature is CHANGE. We are ever moving, in constant shift. The cycle of birth, growth, maturity, death, and rebirth is nature’s way, and one can’t get too attached to anything. This theme of change, and watching it happen year after year on the farm is a true blessing, for it shows us that nothing lasts but love and relationship. The more times we see a tree blossom, grow fruit, eat of it’s bounty, and then watch it’s death-like sleep until the buds come out again, the more we feel connected to the tree and in awe of it’s resilience. Every part of it’s cycle is special and beautiful. This translates to our own lives as well, giving us wisdom to draw on during challenging times because we always know that the conditions won’t last, that we are constantly moving, constantly changing. Today’s challenges will give way to different struggles, different joys, and different lessons. And in all of it is BEAUTY.
Fruits of wisdom from our family tree.