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In the spring of 2010, Keith and I walked the mountain land with our contractor, marking the driveway and house site with an eye towards preserving the venerable oaks of the forest. Our minds envisioned a beautiful completed scene and pondered future projects: a bit of landscaping, maybe a pond, and in my case, a root cellar. Where would we put it, I wondered, maybe outside the basement door, under the deck?

Every-so-often in the past two years, I raised the root cellar location question again, my sometimes attention-deficit mind racing ahead, accelerating like a mountain stream after a deluge. This weekend, I took the stream down to a gentle trickle and asked some fundamental questions. Since I had grown practically nothing on the mountain so far, what in the world did I have to store? Some onions, various kinds of potatoes, and maybe some apples purchased in bulk would be about it since in-season vegetables and fruits are so readily available from local farmers and off-season from grocers. And the cool part of the basement has plenty of bin space for onions, apples and potatoes. Hmmm…

“Why haven’t I focused on growing things like fresh herbs and vegetables for year-round salads?” I mused aloud. Then came the revelation of what this was really about: the manna lesson again, coupled with the parable of the talents.

In the Bible, manna was food provided to the Israelites during their travels in the desert. Gathered daily, manna is sweet, but leftover or hoarded manna is wormy and stinks. Was I an incipient, wasteful hoarder? And didn’t God give me talents and expect me to grow them and develop new skills? All of my life, I have planted flowers and often herbs and vegetables, even though my gardening is more an enthusiasm than a talent. Hmmm…

I decided to start small and experiment. First, I read about cold frames, the modest version of a greenhouse that protects crops from frost. Then I thought about location again, exploring areas where plants might like to grow on our mountain land. With my back to the north, I watched the patterns of sunlight and shade in the early morning, mid-day and in the west during late afternoon. I projected the changing path of the sun across the sky based on the seasons. Finally, I wondered what varies of plants would thrive on our mountain. Who better to consult about horticulture in the Charlottesville area than Thomas Jefferson?

Monticello stands today as a symbol of Jefferson’s passions, especially farming, the occupation that most defined him. Several years ago, I visited Jefferson’s home and gardens with my children and then again a few years ago with Keith. Both times, I purchased booklets on plants, thinking that in the future I might follow in a few of Jefferson’s footsteps. Pending evidence of deer resistance, I now imagine narcissus, wild columbine, mountain cowslip, foxglove, dianthus, cardinal flower and twinleaf happily blooming on the mountainside, and, in a greenhouse, leaf lettuce, peppers and tomatoes feeding us year ‘round, and squash, beans and Jefferson’s favorite sweet peas producing in season.

Instead of storage, I’ll focus on growth, and trust that God and our local farmers will provide the rest. I can’t wait to build a cold frame and start planting seeds, but that’s another parable.

Do you store or grow?

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