I don’t LOVE rhubarb. I do like it however, especially when it is in a tasty dessert like a crumble or a crisp (don’t know the difference between the two of those, but apparently significant differences exist…). Most of my experience with rhubarb has been when I have made visits to farms in the spring, and around the corner of each house was always a huge red and green plant with giant leaves. It was almost as if it were part of the blueprint when the house was built: “insert rhubarb here.” I carried home plastic bags full of rhubarb in the back seat, and then handed them to Cheri, and said, “Surprise! Enjoy…” and then I would wait for the crisp or the crumble.
When we moved into our home here in Fargo, we were thrilled with the wonderful woodwork throughout the home, and the beautiful little gazebo in the backyard, and the great spruce trees that gave us all sorts of privacy. What I didn’t realize until May of that year was that our home was indeed an urban farmstead, because around the corner of our house grew a huge red and green plant with giant leaves. Indeed – we were the owners of a rhubarb plant.
I discovered a few things about rhubarbs: I guess they are hard to start growing, but once they are established, nothing much can stop them. They are indeed prolific plants, and love to produce leaves, the stems of which become the delightful and, with lots of sugar, sweet core ingredient for, again, crisps and crumbles. I also found, if you put your rhubarb near a head of your underground sprinkler system, that the plant will steal all the water that comes out, leaving your lawn in that area a little dry, but helping it to grow to a massive size.
I also found that, while you can harvest rhubarb (harvest – like it’s a crop?) all spring and summer, it’s better in May, June or July, when the stalks are about 7-15 inches long. I also found that no one ever measures the stalks. I ALSO have discovered that, contrary to what makes sense, you should not cut the stalks with a knife. When that happens, what is left over just shrivels up and dies. No – you are supposed to grab the stalk near the ground, and twist it – not too violently – until it cracks off. Apparently, the plant knows it lost an appendage, and quickly starts to grow a new one. Unfortunately, one time I went to get some rhubarb and found a shedded snakeskin in amongst the leaves. I carry the knife anyway.
The last thing I learned about rhubarb is that apparently it grows best in those climates that drop to at least under 40 degrees in the winter. Finally, there is a plant that is meant to grow up north! All those beautiful flowering plants that grow so well down south, but have not chance of surviving -20? Try making a crisp or crumble out of those, will you?
So, this was a very good year for rhubarb, apparently. The thing would not stop growing. I decided to prune off the stems prior to our first real freeze, and the coming of winter, but would make sure I covered it with mulch or good soil. After putting it off for a couple of weeks (I find in retirement that that strategy is always a winning scheme…), my dear wife suggested it was time to “take care of the plant.” It was a nice 68 degree October day, which is unheard of, and so I went out – with a knife – this was going to be major surgery – and approached the rhubarb. I hadn’t realize just how large it had grown. I swear to you, the plant was 6-8 feet wide, and close to 6 feet deep. I don’t know how many leaves were on it, but it must have been over 50 stems, or more. It was a big plant.
I started the work of chopping and twisting, and after about 15 minutes, I paused, and realized I had only cleared out about 1/3 of the plant. On top of that, underneath the health leaves was the graveyard of unpruned, shriveled up leaves and stems. It looked kind of like a rhubarb murder scene. I kept clearing it out and piling the leaves and stuff on the grass.
I came to the conclusion that rhubarb winter preparation should really include two people – one to cut and twist, and another to put the stuff in the huge black plastic bag to take over to the lawn waste recycle bin. You see, after I worked up a sweat and cleared out all the layers of the plant, I turned around to see a pile of leaves behind me. A big pile. And when huge leaves pile up, they are not very cooperative about getting pushed into the black bag. Honestly, at least it was a nice day, and rhubarbs don’t have thorns…
I finally got it all gathered up, and then I took the pots of soil left over after I cleared out the flowers from our back patio – it’s now a bare wasteland – and I dumped the soil all over the rhubarb, and wished it a quiet and peaceful winter. By the way, if anyone is interested, we have an entire shelf in our freezer dedicated to rhubarb pieces, awaiting the crumbling and crisping to come. Trouble is, we are getting that new freezer next Thursday, so I have to find a place to put it all so it survives, since we have to defrost the thing a day or two before…
Such is the life of an urban farmer. We don’t have a vegetable garden. Someday I’ll tell you about our past forays into pumpkin growing. All we have is a rhubarb, which they tell me now I need to dig up in the spring and divide the roots so it can grow even larger. I’m not doing that. Nature doesn’t dig it up, so why should I? Of course, following that line of reasoning, Nature doesn’t chop the plant down in the fall and cover it with mulch, so next year I may just go natural…
We certainly can be as intentional as possible in the way we interact with our world and even with the people in it. It is also true that sometimes – often – the world around us will take its own path, follow its own cycle of living and dying, of producing and going dormant, without our involvement at all. A good word to inform my mind and heart is that the world does not depend on me to survive. Instead, I suppose there is an interdependence that names how we live in our world. Some things are made better because we are involved. Other things, I suppose are made worse. Lots and lots, however, simply exists and grows and continues to bring life, and in the fall, a sense of dying, so that in the spring we will find a new life, a new hope, a new possibility.
To live a life of grace means that we approach our world – and each other – with “loose hands.” Don’t hold things too tightly, thinking that you can ultimately control them. Instead, live with hope, and gratitude, and the bearing in your heart that you intend to care, and to make a good and positive difference in other lives and wherever you put your hands on this wonderful world.
Word for the day: ensourcell. Pronounced en-SORE-sell, it sounds almost French doesn’t it? And indeed, a good part of its history rests in the French language. We take off the en – which means “in” and we are left with the French sorcier, which means and sounds like “sorcerer.” Maybe even a warlock. We then can trace it back to the Latin, out of which French comes, and we find the word, sortiarius, who was a teller of fortunes as a profession. The core Latin word was sors, which means “fate,” or “fortune.”
As we fast forward up to more modern times, we leave the telling of the future and fates behind, and instead, take up the more active, intrusive part of a sorcerer. Ensourcell means “to enchant, or to fascinate someone.” I’m sure we have all met someone with that trait, and found ourselves captivated, or enchanted in a sense by simply being within that persons “spell.” The song, “That Old Black Magic,” was written by Johnny Mercer, but the most famous artist to sing it was Frank Sinatra: “That old black magic has me in its spell – that old black magic that you weave so well.” I’m not in the least advocating for black magic, but there are times when it sure seems as though we are caught up, captivated, entranced by someone who has attracted us. Just be sure to keep your head, as you give away your heart.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.