Fall Garden

In fall
the garden is spent
having given its all.

Cucumber vines lie exhausted on the ground
Tomato plants list to one side
Cornstalks stand dignified and empty
Sunflower faces droop earthward,
shades of their former selves.

All that has not been claimed lies moldering in the dirt—

a bruised tomato, a forsaken pepper…

a misshapen pumpkin,  a trampled stalk of beans.

What came from the earth is returning
to the place from whence it came.

There is an intimacy here,

in the fall garden,

gazing at living things in their demise.

I want to avert my eyes, avoid this tender grief.
Is this life or is this death? I cannot tell.

Ah, but there is beauty here

amid all this death and dying.

To have given one’s self fully
at least once
that is the thing.

To have spent oneself in an explosion of color

to have offered one’s body for food,

one’s very soul for nourishment…

It is an unseemly generosity,
beauty of another kind.

In fall
the garden says, “This is my life, given for you.”
And we are fed.

©Ruth Haley Barton, 2012.

Ruth Haley Barton

(Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is Founder and Chief Essence Officer of the Transforming Center. A teacher, seasoned spiritual director (Shalem Institute), and retreat leader, she is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Life Together in Christ, Pursuing God’s Will Together, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Sacred Rhythms, and Invitation to Solitude and Silence.

38 Comments

  1. Judy Niday on November 28, 2017 at 7:35 pm

    Ruth, vivid description of the garden having given its all touches my heart. A group of us worked a community garden called Harvest 4 Hope and were able to supply over 1000 lbs of produce to the local food pantry and meals served once a week. The beauty underneath is that it will repeat itself again next growing season. Yeah God!

  2. Theresa on November 23, 2017 at 10:20 am

    Thank you for this poem. It reminds me of Pv. 24 and the necessity to care for the garden in every season.

  3. Marge on November 23, 2017 at 7:29 am

    I read, Zechariah 9:17a this a.m. before reading this lovely poignant poem….”For how great is God’s goodness, and how great is God’s beauty.” This Word picture of a fall garden captures both goodness and beauty for me, especially, “Ah, but there is a beauty here amid all this death and dying…”, and felt a release as I internalized, “To have given one’s self fully at least once that is the thing.” Very, very Thank-Full!

    • Ruth Barton on November 25, 2017 at 8:32 am

      I love that this brought you a sense of release…that is what the spiritual life is most deeply about–releasing ourselves to God. Thank you.

  4. Gary Stewart on November 22, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    As an old farm boy, your beautiful and poignant poem stirred a lot of sweet memories. These two stanzas really brought back long forgotten images

    Cucumber vines lie exhausted on the ground
    Tomato plants list to one side
    Cornstalks stand dignified and empty
    Sunflower faces droop earthward,
    shades of their former selves.

    All that has not been claimed lies moldering in the dirt—
    a bruised tomato, a forsaken pepper…
    a misshapen pumpkin, a trampled stalk of beans.
    What came from the earth is returning
    to the place from whence it came.

    it reminded me of the post-frost days when I could no longer wear shorts and go barefoot. But the almost C.S. Lewis like allegory pictured well what I’m learning of our spiritual life in the Sun. Thanks for writing and posting this.

    • Ruth Barton on November 25, 2017 at 8:29 am

      You are most welcome! Glad it stirred sweet memories…

  5. John Connell on November 22, 2017 at 8:58 am

    Perfect for Thanksgiving

  6. Fred Pitzl on November 22, 2017 at 8:45 am

    Wonderful. I work in the Senior Care industry and see the beautiful lives people live–they are giving until the end.

    • Ruth Barton on November 25, 2017 at 8:30 am

      Wow. So you are blessed to witness the truth of this every day!

  7. Linda H on November 22, 2017 at 8:44 am

    Poetry slows, declutters, creating room for God to takes us into His heart. Thank you.

    • Ruth Barton on November 25, 2017 at 8:27 am

      Yes, it certainly does! God uses poetry in my life and in my soul differently than anything else.

  8. Terri on November 22, 2017 at 8:24 am

    At the peak of Fall time this year my 94 year old non Christian mom who had dementia passed away. The Lord answered my deepest childhood desire to be there with her and be able to hold her hand as she took her last breath. Moments before she died she opened her eyes for the first time and looked right at me. For days I was deeply impacted by care givers who attended to her with extraordinary tenderness, speaking and shedding tears of love over her. When I returned home I took a walk and it was a gorgeous Fall day. The Lord spoke to me. I love the Fall and the magnificent breathtaking display of colors but they are only beautiful because they are dying. My moms passing was like the Fall. I thanked Him that I was able to behold Him and see color and beauty in her death. What a gift. This poem you wrote was an ointment to my soul in my time of grief as I remember the garden of her life now and the sacrificial ways she lived and taught me to live. Oh the beauty that comes from dying to self.

    • Ruth Barton on November 25, 2017 at 8:25 am

      Yes, “they are beautiful because they are dying.” This is the paradox of fall, isn’t it? That the colors we enjoy and want to see are given to us by leaves that are dying and letting go. We may never fully wrap our heads around the meaning of this or embrace it fully while we are on this earth; however, the picture is worth a thousand words and maybe it helps us lean in a bit, as you have done while accompanying your mother through her dying process. Beautiful.

  9. Amy on November 22, 2017 at 7:09 am

    Ruth,

    Your words are beautifully written! I appreciate you and your thoughts very much. I love the idea of giving ones self fully for the sake of others. I will look at gardens a little differently now. Happy Thanksgiving.

  10. JJames on November 20, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Thanks you for reminding us to pause at this time of year. It is oh so easy to get lost in frenetic activity.

  11. […] this week, I caught up on some of my RSS feeds. I came across Ruth Haley Bartons’ poem “Fall Garden” on the “Transforming Center” blog. Our family keeps a meager garden in our backyard every year. It is sad when we see the vines […]

  12. Adam Feldman on October 16, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    I read this poem while on a family “soul care” trip to the mountains. A brilliant fall day with a wonderful poem to remind me of Christ’s sacrifice. Thank you for sharing, Ruth!

  13. Theresa on October 11, 2012 at 4:47 am

    Thank you for sharing and imparting a view from another place – the fall…it makes all the difference.

  14. Mark Werner on October 10, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    “I want to avert my eyes, avoid this tender grief.
    Is this life or is this death? I cannot tell”
    What a beautifully crafted poem! The observer’s question of the garden: “is this life or death?” captures well the thoughts, feelings and the perplexing experiences for those who seek to serve in the way of our Savior!

    • Ruth Barton on October 11, 2012 at 2:29 pm

      Yes, it does. The fall garden offers a strange comfort amid the complexities of our life (and deaths) in ministry.

  15. Sharon Hyatt on October 10, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Ruth,
    An absolutely beautiful expression of the seasons and their applications to us.
    Thank you.
    Do please note the misuse of “it’s” which is a frequent mistake not caught. Should be “its” without the apostrophe.

  16. Cindy B. on October 10, 2012 at 3:53 am

    We don’t read enough poetry…thanks for the change of pace in your writing. It’s appreciated.

    • Ruth Barton on October 11, 2012 at 2:26 pm

      Sharing poetry feels more vulnerable. Thanks you for such deep and heartfelt encouragement one and all!

  17. Doug Hooge on October 10, 2012 at 12:55 am

    A beautiful picture of our own lives, lived out for Christ. It speaks very much to me of my wife’s life, who went to be with the Lord (too soon in my estimation, not His), a year ago Sept 24th, at age 58. Her life was indeed an ‘explosion of color’ as she offered all she had received from Him as ‘food and nourishment’ to others. She once said to me, ‘I can’t do anything but give all I have for Him’. She did. And is now fed from all He gave for her.

  18. David Strieff on October 10, 2012 at 12:25 am

    Well crafted poem! A pleasure to read and re-read.

  19. Maria Garriott on October 9, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    Thank you for this lovely poem.

  20. Kristin Evenson on October 9, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    Such an eloquent tribute! God’s patterns surround us.

  21. Kathy McCready on October 9, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    Beautiful poem, Ruth! It captures the poignant beauty of sacrifice.

    Blessings!

  22. Jennifer Alexander Schoenrock on October 9, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    “The Fall of my Mother” headed my journal this September as she did indeed fall from a stroke and has begun her “Fall” season. This poem describes her amazing spirit and life; what a godly, poured out woman she has been. God bless her “Fall” into his arms, in his time and his way.

  23. Cathy McMulkin on October 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    Ruth,

    A gift of fall, turning one toward Heaven. What a fall morning blessing!

    Cathy

  24. Kendon Wheeler on October 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Ruth, this is beautiful. I’m going to share this with my mom and family. Thank you.

  25. Char Dillon on October 9, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Ruth,

    Lovely poem!!

    Char

  26. Kelly K on October 9, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Just the words I needed this morning, Ruth. Thank you. “Is this life or is this death? I cannot tell.” Exactly where I am right now – doing my best to embrace the death and the dark season surrounding it because I know that in the kingdom death makes way for new life.

    • Ruth Barton on October 11, 2012 at 9:01 pm

      So glad this came at the right time. The embracing you are talking about here is not easy. God bless and comfort your heart…

  27. Paul Bramer on October 9, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Thank you for this. “To have given one’s self fully / at least once / that is the thing.” There’s cost and criticism for this kind of “unseemly generosity.” Thank you for putting into words the nobility and … satisfaction of being spent in a life-giving endeavor.

  28. Lynn on October 9, 2012 at 11:58 am

    Beautiful. Reminds me of broken bread and poured out wine.

  29. Michael Fox on October 9, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Lovely. Truth.

  30. Libby Hore-Lacy on October 9, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Thank you Ruth. A beautiful poem that touches this gardener’s heart and enlarges my vision of our God, always at work in creation and salvation. I look forward to next Autumn and in the meantime will tune more carefully in to the voice of Spring here in South Gippsland, Victoria.

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