September Catch Up

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Somehow, August has passed me by, at least as far as Life In the Fast Lane is concerned. It seems a moment ago we were sweltering in the heat of summer; now we’re rushing into fall at breakneck speed. A few trees are even sporting autumn colors, at least on a branch or two.

In those lost days (weeks, really), I wanted to write about ripe peaches, a garden that was planted to be shared, and a gathering of fruit enthusiasts. None of that happened. Instead, I got caught up in the whirlwind that is life in general: deadlines and schedules, work projects and family gatherings, pop-up crises and crisis management. This isn’t a grocery list of complaints; sometimes, life just gets in the way.

By now, Orion has begun his seasonal journey across the sky, already hanging in the predawn eastern horizon. Blue jays scream at the feeder and in the oak trees, arguing, it seems, over the quality of the sunflower seeds and acorns. Meanwhile, the treetops pulse with the rhythms of cicadas by day and katydids all night. Even the Canada geese are getting in on the action, drilling their now-fledged goslings on the finer points of formation flight. I swear the parents are honking out, ‘Left! Left! Left, right, left!” while the kiddies fuss, “Are we there yet?”

 With so much to share and so many posts missed, I suppose I need to make a few decisions. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll save the piece on peaches for next summer (or maybe this winter, when we could use a reminder of this winter), and focus on the garden of sharing, at least for now.

The Midway Trail Garden

A decade or so ago, my town began a long-range project to transform a retired stretch of rail line into a recreational trail, open to hikers, cyclists and horseback riders. The Lebanon Valley Rail Trail now begins on the south side of town, meandering south to the village of Cornwall before turning westward to connect with the Conewago branch of the Lancaster County Rail Trail, 20-some miles to the west. Along the way, it passes woodlots, fields, developments, farmyards and a fairground, and one special garden.

Along one stretch of trail, bound on both sides by wooded banks, a small paved pathway leads away from the trail and over the east bank, marked by signs and a park bench. As the trail crests the bank, the trees fall away to a magnificent view of cornfields, a ball field, a church in the distance, and in the foreground, a remarkable community garden. Most community gardens lease small plots to individuals wanting to grow their own produce. This garden, however, does not – because the landowners have already done the planting.

About three years ago, members of the Midway Church of the Brethren needed a purpose for a parcel of land situated between their ball field and the Rail Trail, a purpose that would reach out to the public and help culture a spirit of community. They chose to plant a garden where people traveling the trails could find rest, peace, and reflection, along with a snack of fresh fruit picked directly from the bushes, vines and trees. Midway’s garden team planted a garden to nourish the body and the soul.

The garden itself consists of three sections. The first, the focal point of the garden, offers a meandering pathway leading to a pergola planted with grapevines. Eventually, the vines will cover the pergola, providing shade and fruit to people in need of a rest break. For now, they climb the four columns before stretching across the roof of the structure. The path itself passes through tall clover and beautiful hanging baskets adorned with Scriptural passages.

A soon-to-be shady spot.

To the right of the pergola lies a large field of wildflowers. Three cross-shaped walking paths have been mowed into the field, offering an opportunity to wander through the meadow. Butterflies flit from blossom to blossom as birds call back and forth to each other in the nearby trees.

A Swallowtail enjoying a nectar break.

And to the left? Well, there you will find row upon row of berry canes, cutting flowers, cherry tomatoes and grape vines. Anyone is welcome to enjoy a snack of strawberries, raspberries in three different colors, blackberries, blueberries, whatever may be in season at the moment. There really are only two rules: Only pick what you can eat while you are there, and be respectful of the atmosphere of faith.

Spend a little time among the rows, and you may notice they aren’t perfectly parallel to each other. In fact they follow a definite angled pattern, each one aligned perfectly with the pergola, almost like rays of sunlight streaming from the sun. This is no accident, and serves a practical purpose. Parents and grandparents can relax in the shade of the pergola while their children explore the berries, secure in the knowledge that they are constantly in view. No part of the garden is hidden from the pergola.

Finding reason to celebrate.

At the beginning of August, the planting group held a campfire celebration, in honor of the grapevines growing on the pergola. For the first time in three years, the vines had stretched across the top of the pergola, meeting each other in the middle. Of the four vines, one was larger, more robust, and longer. That particular vine had had a difficult start, dying back to a single bud in its first winter, and given up for lost. It struggled on, from that solitary remaining bud, barely growing at all the following summer, before launching into incredible growth since. Sometimes faith is like that, something incredible exploding from the most unexpected, most humble of sources.

I realize that most of you live nowhere near here, but if you ever get the opportunity to travel Lebanon’s Rail Trail, stop in at the Midway Prayer Garden. Even if you can’t visit ours, maybe you can plant one of your own, open to anyone who could use a gift of fruit and of rest.

Celebratory s’mores!