Right now in my garden, some of the leaf lettuce plants are stretching upward and showing the beginning of flowers. They are preparing themselves for the seed that will follow. There are a few things I notice about this process.
First, the new leaves are small, and they get smaller the closer they are to the flower head. It is as though they are saying, by virtue of their size, “Don’t eat me.” Honestly, they are not worth harvesting.
Another thing that seems to say don’t eat me is the bitterness. It begins slowly, but the plants get more bitter as the seed head grows. This bitterness can be tolerated to a point, but there comes a bitterness that is just uneatable.
The third thing that happens is that the leaves get tough. Their texture changes. They are no longer supple and moist. They even feel rough. Along with this texture change is a color change. This indicates to me that the leaves are now tough and if I tear them, a thick white sap drips from them. Not particularly appetizing for a fresh garden salad.
It is as though the entire plant is protecting the formation of its immature young. Everything about the plant says, “I am not edible anymore.” Its life cycle is now focused on forming what will bring life to new plants. It is in a stage of birthing.
The lettuce plants have done their part in the nourishing of those who would enjoy its bounty. They offered themselves fully, but now the time has come to nourish something else. The future. Life. Future life.
Reflecting on the birthing process of the lettuce plant has given me pause to think about those things in my own life that are in process of being birthed. Birthing new attitudes, new habits, new ways of thinking and feeling and sensing—all of these new ways of being require a change, a focused change. And this change seems to say, “I need to nourish something else right now.” Out of this, questions arise.
What is it that needs to be nourished? What needs to diminish so that the seed of it may grow? How might the nourishing of that seed become bitter? What will toughen and become rough? And how will all of this be nourishing to what is being birthed?
This is the way of the garden life: giving nourishment to the birthing process.
Photo: Red leaf lettuce