A Calming Ritual

The international and national news cycle is heartbreaking. When I can no longer follow one more thread of the Israeli/Hamas war or the Ukrainian War or the chaos in the U.S. House of Representatives, I go outside to tend to the ritual of closing down the garden for the season.

This one little patch of earth is where I can make a difference. I stand at the gate overlooking twelve raised beds that need my care and flourish because of it. October weather changes daily, growing cooler and wetter. The day length is shrinking so fast that the sun scarcely has the strength to burn off last night’s dew. I follow a sequence of chores that nearly 30 years of gardening here has taught me.

Ann in her fall garden

Unlike my gardening days in northern Minnesota in the 1980s, there is not an abrupt end of fall gardening here. Our climate in the Pacific Northwest is far milder, even though the latitude here is slightly further north than Duluth, MN. The presence of Puget Sound creates a moderating effect that keeps October temperatures between high 40 degrees F. (8 degrees C.) to low 60 degrees F. (17 degrees C.). By contrast, Duluth has already had its first frost. Whidbey’s first frost date is usually mid-November.

I gather my hand tools and shovel, appreciating the respite gardening gives me from the dire news of the world. My tasks are not avoidance, but a kind of meditation, a way I receive teaching from the ground I stand on.

First teaching: There is a season of flourishing, harvesting, last gifts, and completion. Plants are excellent communicators of this cycle.  Our bean and pea plants yellowed weeks ago. When there is no longer enough chlorophyll to keep them alive, I pull them up, move them to the compost pile, and plant a cover crop of rye, common vetch, and crimson clover so the soil in those beds maintains its fertility and composition through the winter rains.

This year’s cover crop: rye, common vetch, crimson clover scattered on the ground, covered with remay cloth to keep the birds from eating the seed, AND then covered with chicken wire to keep the squirrels from eating the seed!

Second teachingA gardener is in relationship with everything: plants, soil, weather, birds, and squirrels. Figuring out relationships seems to be a major source of the human problems in the world. No, I don’t have any answers except to respond with kindness, respect, and listening. Those three things work in the garden with the critters. I do, however, confess to more than my share of unkind thoughts towards grey squirrels who have forced me to figure ever more clever ways to grow my cover crops. And chasing them around the perimeter fence certainly gives our little corgi purpose in life!

This year I grew a spectacular 9 foot sunflower plant. When it turned to seed, it was stunning to watch the squirrels hang upside down by their tails devouring the seed.

Planting tulip bulbs for next spring, I covered them with wire mesh to keep the squirrels from digging them up!





Third teaching: Be patient and move at the pace of nature. I used to pull up most crops by mid-October and put in my cover crops and garlic before the end of the month. These days, two hours is a good workload and I don’t try to move fast. I let the plants finish themselves. Potatoes are still in the ground, so are two rows of carrots.

Two rows of carrots that won’t come out of the ground until November. Raspberry bushes and asparagus stalks in the background.

Fourth teaching: Let nature show the ways to heal and delight. I come to the garden daily for peace of mind. Here, I admire the hardy tomato plant(grown on the deck for extra warmth) using its last push to ripen tiny fruits. I am amazed by a zucchini plant putting forth blossoms, even when there seems little hope for a fruit to ripen.  Finding joy in the dailyness of things is a radical act in this challenging world. I pluck a handful of not moldy raspberries and let memories of summer’s red juice burst on my tastebuds. If  I can get to the place of admiring the athletic antics of the  squirrels, I know the garden has worked its balm.

Cherry tomatoes ripening on the deck, even though the plants contain little remaining chlorophyll.

A zucchini blossoming in mid-October with a young fruit just behind the blossom.


A few ripe raspberries remain on the vine even into mid-October.











Returning to the house after a morning or afternoon of gardening, I do not open the news—either on my phone or the computer. I need some indoor integration time with a cup of tea or a conversation with Christina or a friend.

 The natural rhythms of the planet have always informed and given me the skills of steadfastness and compassion needed to cope with the human world that so dominates daily life. I take the peace of my garden and make sure it is integrated into my heart and soul. Come winter, my main chore will be feeding birds, keeping the seeds and suet available. in January, I will cut back the raspberry canes. In early February I will release the tulip and garlic tips from their wire cage. In March, turn over the cover crop and plant a line of early lettuce, spinach and arugula. There is always something to do in the garden. Thank goodness.

Vivi guards the newly planted garlic from her nemesis, the squirrels. She will be there in February to help me admire the brave new shoots of life. (Note the covering of chicken wire to keep the garlic bulbs from being dug up by the squirrels.)

24 replies
  1. Jana Jopson
    Jana Jopson says:

    “Finding joy in the dailyness of things …” so vital. Thank you for sharing these four garden teachings. Even though I am not a gardener, I am a walker of the wheel of the year and these speak to my heart.

  2. Judy Todd
    Judy Todd says:

    Dear Ann,
    Thank you for the grounding in exactly the place we are blessed to be.
    I find myself turning to the natural world in diverse ways to hold me and remind me to be in my body…not fly off into the fearful unknown as if it is the only way. I am so very grateful for each cloud, each tree, every flower and spider and wind that comes my way and invites me to balance.
    Blessings to you and to your garden.

  3. Bonnie Rae
    Bonnie Rae says:

    “Finding joy in the dailyness of things is a radical act in this challenging world”  This is the truest thing I’ve heard in a very long time. It is remarkable how we can transform our own minds through the simple tasks in front of us. Thank you so much for this reminder. I am feeling all of this today. 

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      And you, dear Bonnie Rae, bring so much joy in the dailyness of your wildlife photos—helping us look closer and appreciate that which is in front of us always, if we but look a bit closer. Ann

  4. Gretchen Staebler
    Gretchen Staebler says:

    Ah, this is sweet balm. You are a beautiful person. I envy both your skill and your commitment to the garden. I think I will let mine go in the spring. (I possibly say that every fall.) I will miss it, and not. But it needs a new fence, and I’m tired. The deer won this year. Maybe it’s okay to let it go. I will find something else to distract from the world? xoxo

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Knowing when to let go and when to persevere . . . the question of our age, for sure. Your journeys into the wilds are a wonderful balm for the soul!

  5. Judy Ulibarri
    Judy Ulibarri says:

    Thank you for the beautiful reminder and perspective. I too spent time in my garden, seeking connection and grounding today.
    I really appreciated your reminders of the cycle (bigger picture).

    Grateful and humbled.

  6. Cheryl Tomchin
    Cheryl Tomchin says:

    What salve for my weariness being privy to your garden muse at the end of another long day.
    I prefer to support farmers market so no longer plant many edibles; weeding, racking, and watering give me the reprieve to a growing pile of papers— my nemesis! Blessings to you and family,

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Supporting farmers market is, of course, wonderful! I so so also. My garden is far from big enough to support us, just big enough to bring joy. Ann

  7. Linette Harriott
    Linette Harriott says:

    Dear Ann, I completely agree. The garden’s rhythms keep me in check. My friends and I are devastated here by the failure of the voting population to agree to constitutional change that would allow recognition of First Nations people and a mechanism for them to have a formal role as a voice to parliament. This awful result has left us all in tears. A national shame. My garden helps calm the turmoil. I hope the coming winter is not too harsh.
    Warmly, Linette

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Dear Linette, Just learned about your failed constitutional change in Australia. So sorry. Thinking of you in your garden and the joy we had sharing bits of it. Blessings, Ann

  8. Marina Lachecki
    Marina Lachecki says:

    As you know it is the garden that guides and center/ me, too, especially when the nation and out world need the cycle of seeding and tending and harvesting and letting go to rest.
    Especially now when life is threatened by disruption

  9. Diane Tilstra
    Diane Tilstra says:

    Dear Anne,
    Your message is so timely and welcomed. I, too, use the garden as my peace and respite. I am my most creative mentally when tending the tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. The plants nourish me on so many levels. The wars waged in the world leave such emotional and physical devastation. Some of my Tacoma Refugee Choir members can so vividly paint the picture that forced them to leave their country. I also know that there is are people that gather from Israel and Palestine to promote peace and respect. Check out the Jerusalem Chorus! My choir director has sung with this group in Israel. I will pray while I put my garden to sleep for the winter and harvest the “yellow britches” (my Grandmother’s name for the beans left to yellow once pods are filled) to make dried beans. Praying for all my wonderful Elderhearts and imagining a world of peace. Much love.

  10. Donna Blohowiak
    Donna Blohowiak says:

    Ann, I am reading Deep Water Passage for the third time in 5 years. You are an amazing woman and I have learned so much from you . I am 86 years old and have had some tragedies in my life. Your wisdom and perseverance have helped me to cope and understand the journey that is mine. Thank you!

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Hello, Donna. I am most honored to receive this comment from you. And I know at 86 years of age YOU have things to teach me. Deep blessings, Ann


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