My harvest wasn’t very good this year, or it was, but in unexpected ways. I planned for apples, and grew birds. I planned for painting, and built a fence. I planned on, or at least hoped for, several business ventures, and helped people in ways I didn’t imagine. Whether by plan or by chance, I’m glad I’ve learned to give up expectations of control. As the world shifts, that may be one of the most valuable skills.
There are three apple trees, a fig tree, and some raspberry canes in my backyard. They’re in my backyard because the backyard has a fence, or is supposed to. My fence and I are real world examples of a great monologue from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
King of Swamp Castle: When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that’s what you’re going to get, Lad, the strongest castle in all of England.
Three , no five, no four times my backyard fence has fallen down. Never the entire fence, but wind storms on Whidbey have blown eight foot sections down almost every year. Of the twenty sections of fence, about half of them have fallen at least once. Maybe it is the winds here on the south end of Whidbey Island, maybe it is the fact that the fence is aging, maybe it is the fact that the firm that built the fence didn’t nail all the boards into place, maybe it is a conspiracy of the local deer because they lounge and dine in my backyard as soon as they can.
Three apple trees sound like more than enough for one person, but only one has a trunk larger than two inches in diameter. The deer and the bunnies (with their big nasty teeth) have gnawed the other two trees so frequently that the leaves look scared. At least the one apple tree and the fig tree are surviving. (The raspberries are a gifted transplant, and are hiding behind chicken wire hoping to survive.)
There was enough foliage to suggest a nice harvest, but nope. This year’s weather was so weird, record setting heat and drought didn’t help, that I was amazed the leaves hung in there. The fruits, however, did not. As autumn finally works its way into the forecasts, I held out hope for at least a token apple or fig to have made it through the season. Sigh. Nope. Maybe next year, because the fence will finally protect them for an entire season. Right?
As I reached through the leaves, looking for hidden fruit, I came across something that had grown: birds’ nests. Some birder could probably identify the occupants from the mud-daubed cup. All I know is that, while I didn’t get any fruit, at least something was able to create a new generation from what I’d planted.
I’ve been discouraged lately. Many of my sources of optimism in my backup plans have seen postponements or cancellations. Zillow is dropping the Zestimate for my house. My portfolio‘s companies are getting good news, but not good enough to move their stocks much. Classes in photography and social media were hit by a miscommunication (but there’s still time to sign up for the Social Media class). A few appealing job opportunities haven’t arrived, whether through funding issues or changes in direction. I feel a bit like Monty Python’s Black Knight who is trying to pass off some major battle damage as “just a flesh wound”.
And then I think of the birds’ nests.
The world, including our societies and economic system, is a chaotic system. We can rationalize cause and effect, which we have to some extent. But, despite the highly held banner of “Just Keep Doing Good Work”, I also have noticed how many success stories include an element of good luck: finally making the right connection, meeting a patron or partner, being in the right place at the right time – even when it first felt like the wrong place at the wrong time. Hard work does help, but panaceas don’t exist. Good luck does help, but even lottery tickets require someone to take the steps to buy one. If we think we have complete control it’s because we’ve overlooked something. Someone else’s accidental deviation from a plan may become a great personal benefit.
There are a couple of cartoons I’d like to include, but I don’t want to worry about copyright (and researching cartoons on the Internet is a sure way to dive into an hours-deep rabbit hole.) One cartoon describes the definition of insanity; “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” The other cartoon shows two miners, one quits from frustration while only inches away from the rich vein of diamonds that the other miner gains with just a bit more effort. Which cartoon are we in? Which cartoon am I in?
I’m back to my seven-day-a-week work schedule until Thanksgiving (unless good fortune arrives). I feel like a tired miner. I look around and see many people in similar situations, sometimes for their financial situation, sometimes for a cause. It can be hard to keep going, and there’s no way to know if the persistence is a problem or revealing an opportunity.
And then I think of the birds’ nests.
As a friend pointed out on Facebook, unintended consequences are more common than we expect. That doesn’t mean we quit trying. That doesn’t mean our efforts are wasted. Sometimes it means we worked on one thing, and it enabled something just as precious and valuable for someone else – and eventually for ourselves as well.
If nothing else, I just found a great rationalization for re-watching Holy Grail for the twelfth or twentieth time. No, the fifteenth! Aarrgghh.