top of page

All Our Monuments Fall

This week I am returning to a poem that has been important to me for a long time. It mostly stays quietly in the back of my mind, but every fall it comes to the foreground. It deals with something that I wrestle with again and again: death and the ends of things.

The poem is called "The Farmer Speaking of Monuments" and I've written about it before. You can find it HERE.

Like many good poems it stirs many thoughts. But in this case, it is the current season and decline of summer that stirs me to remember the poem. For that reason, I'll write my seasonal thoughts and let you refer to the poem if you wish.

Every fall we slowly draw closer and closer to the death of the garden. All year the garden occupies us and demands our attention and slowly we grow connected to it. It is true that some years we end up largely exasperated with it, but even in those years we have a kind of bond with the garden. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of US. It takes our energy and our time. It takes our life, poured out, to make it all happen.

And then, all that beautiful work that stands so tall and colorful---just shrivels up and dies in the frost. It withers. And we can't stop it. And its not like it comes to a tidy conclusion like a movie that is SUPPOSED to end. The garden DIES. Its alive and growing and producing, and then it gets killed where it stands. Death. Things that were alive... dead.

And we can't do anything about it. Even if we erected giant heated greenhouses to keep things going... eventually they would have to die. A lot of people cling to the idea that if they are careful enough they can orchestrate their life in such a way that nothing has to die for them. If we employ enough technology we can avoid or indefinitely delay... death. They want only life. Its a nice idea that is out of touch with the earth.

Death comes to all things. And while you can look away, or ignore it or pretend that since you didn't require it you're not responsible for it, but in the end it always comes. And furthermore, we all depend on it to keep us alive.

During this time of the year death arrives in the garden. Every year. And we have mixed feelings about it. There is some relief. There is some horror. There is some meaning. There is some meaninglessness. But it always comes and we always have to wake up one morning to a field of death. And not just a death, but the death of our handy-work. What we gave our life to... dies. A project called off.

Maybe I need to stop being so serious about it. Its just a frost. Its totally normal. Its not some deep and dramatic thing. Frost is frost. Move on.

But I try not to gloss past it. I try to let it sink in. I could laugh it off as just a normal thing that happens all the time. Because it is. Death is the most normal thing. I could just talk about "frost" and avoid thinking about "death". People neatly erase "death" and "dying" and "died" and "dead" from their language all the time these days to soften the reality.

Because death is really really hard. It really is. Maybe the hardest thing.

Which is why I want to let it linger when it is the garden that is dying. I think of it as practice.

When things end, it's hard and confusing. Many things can be reversed or rebuilt, but death is final. That's one of the reasons it is so hard and we struggle with it so much. And why we avoid engaging with it when we can.

But that hardness is also why I want to pause and hold the death of the garden in myself for a time. I want to let it hit me. I want to chew on it. And feel it. Become less shocked. Perhaps holding the death in my mind can give my mind some new life...

I also want to become aware of what else is happening when the garden dies. To recognize what is being prepared in the death of the one thing. What life is being fed? Because most death also makes way for new life. If we can see it.

For instance, we kill many of our crops every week when we harvest. And we don't struggle with that death. It feels right and good and joyful. Mainly because we know that the death we inflict is giving vibrant life to our friends. And we love our friends.

But when the frost takes much of the garden in a single night, it doesn't feel so life giving. It feels like meaningless loss. Because something we were fond of died and we cannot see what was fed.

So each fall, I prepare myself for the death of life. I try to be ok with it. And I try to find and keep one eye on what is given by the death.

For the Record, I don't subscribe to the popular notions that we should just "think positive", "be thankful", "look on the bright side" or any other strategies that encourage us to simply look away from the hard things and focus on things we like. I believe that is very unhealthy and very unhelpful and very unwise when there actually are hard things before us. I don't think it is any better then constantly reminding someone who is rejoicing about how much everything cost and who and what was sacrificed for it to come to be. That person would be labeled "toxic" for always reminding us of the loss in a given situation. The exclusively positive person is also toxic--just in the opposite way.

That's why I said "keep ONE eye" on the life that is given. You have two. Both sides of the paradox should be kept in mind. Keep an eye on the death. Engage with it appropriately (I would suggest true grief, which is a foreign thing to most people). Keep your other eye on the life that is given. And if you can't see one half of the paradox... recognize your limited scope of vision.

I can see that when the garden dies, I am given a kind of new life. Like I said, we pour OUT our lives (translation: we are spent--we die a little bit) in order to give life to the garden. And when the garden is taken by the winter, we are relieved of a kind of burden and servitude. We are freed back to our life.

This year has been particularly exhausting for me. We moved the farm. We set up the farm. We farmed the farm. We expanded the farm. We had our 4th child. We started a second farm. We farmed that second farm. I had a lot on my plate.

So this year, when the frost comes and then the final freezes and then the snow, I think I'll be ok with it. I think I'll welcome it. I gave probably too much of myself, and I'll be able to accept the gift of frost like a warm bed.

Gardening isn't the only thing we do around here. We also do a lot of work that is entirely unaffected by the change of seasons. But I hope that the lessons of the garden and patterns we see in the earth and seasons can give us wisdom for the other work. I hope I can learn the blessing of desisting. Of rest and seasons of inaction. The life that comes from giving up.

I want a front row seat to the coming of the frost and the death of my work and the falling of my monuments (see the poem) so that I can more easily practice death in other areas of my life. So that I can believe that death is not the end, but a set on the way. I hope I can someday live by that knowledge even when it seems (and the culture insists) that unending life and progress is the only way. I hope I can let THAT notion die.

30 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page