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  • Alice Wyatt

Thinning the Beets



Most people would not consider thinning beets an occasion for existential crisis, but I am not most people.


Which one to pull? Which one to leave? I am the Gardner God! Life and Death at my fingertips! Oh, the responsibility! Oh, the pressure! Cue handwringing and darkening skies with flashes of lightning; the drama builds.


But really, have you ever grown vegetables from seeds the size of fleas? You create a shallow trench in the dirt with your finger, then sprinkle the minute seeds in a line. Cover with soil, pat firmly, water and wait 5 - 12 days. When a crewcut of thin green appears, you know you have done it correctly.


Here is the thing, seeds grow. A full-grown beet is the size of a baseball, not a flea. That is where thinning comes in. Get down on your hands and knees and with timid finger tips (no gloves allowed, they are too bulky for this delicate surgery) you gently tug every other slender stem out of the ground. Live, die, live, die, live, die. It is rather traumatic.


When I was a young mother, I would call my mom with tales of woe. I was doing too many things that took me away from my responsibilities at home. I would never say this, of course. Rather, cooking is stressful, the laundry is piling up, and so-and-so is never going to learn long-division, and “Oh, I am a failure!” My mother tentatively suggests I am doing too much. Maybe a slower pace of life would be better for everyone?


Ha! Nonsense. What does my mother know? I can do it! I just need better time management. I just need more energy. I just need the kids to help more. I just need…


These memories crowd my mind as I crouch over tender beet stalks. Each one is healthy, full of potential. But in order to grow, they can’t all live. As a young mother, I wanted everything to live: play dates, gardening, healthy meals, church activities, home-schooling, community activism, date nights, book reading, deep friendships. Whew. When I look back over all the things I did for so many years, the toll on my family and my mental health, I want to weep.


In order to live a balanced life, one must decide what lives and what dies. If the decision was between good and best, growing old would help. You would be wiser, know what to prioritize. Unfortunately, the choice is often between amazing!, and super cool, and once in a life-time! Like beets, each idea, relationship, opportunity, has the potential to become a healthy, full-grown source of sustenance. (I might be overselling beets here, but am sticking with the analogy)


Last year, a friend and I launched a monthly storytelling event. It has really taken off and become a beautiful, positive community builder, exactly as I hoped. It is also a lot of work. I sit down on Monday mornings to write or finalize my latest blog post and instead, find my fingers clicking open my torcstorylab@gmail inbox. Two hours of typing, formatting, emailing, texting, reminding, and persuading later, much of my creative energy is gone. I lay my head down on the desk, feeling discouraged. Do I keep the T or C Story Lab beet in my garden, knowing the time and energy it takes away from writing? One feels important to the entire community, while the other is a deep-seated passion and creative outlet.


Michael is retiring soon. Whoop! 35 years of five days a week, 8+ hours a day, plus many weeks away fighting wildfires. I am so proud of him and want to honor his vision for the next phase of our lives. This will include traveling, A LOT of traveling. When we sit down with a calendar, I realize we could be away for up to three months next year. Oh, how fun!


Oh wait, how stressful! Who takes care of the cats and the chickens? Who pulls the weeds? Is it possible to plant a garden when I am gone most of April and May? What about quiet contemplation, journaling, time for creative juices to flow? Do my gardening/writing beets get temporarily thinned in honor of his needs/wants? Will I become resentful? Maybe travel will be fodder for wonderful writing subjects?


As I write, what began as a vague thought moves from brain to heart, and then flows thru fingers. In essay form, the answer becomes clear. My motivation for most decisions comes from my love of people. I want people to feel seen, heard, valued. I hate it when people are lonely and disconnected from community.


I love beauty and creative energy. Sometimes that results in moving furniture and painting walls, or pouring over garden catalogs. Often, it was hours memorizing a script and bonding with fellow actors in the green room. It was hauling my kids to art shows and dancing to live music, and boxes of scrapbooking materials.


I want to live BIG as a way of saying Thank You to God for the beautiful things in my life. Thanksgiving dinner invites exceeding the number of chairs I own. My home filled from floor to ceiling with the creative genius of my community. Saying YES, more than NO, because people say yes to me, to my needs, to my crazy ideas. Adopt just one more shelter cat. Take extended road trips to visit friends and family, maintain important relationships.


Do these things keep the garden rows of my life untidy and crammed? Yes, I suppose so. Do some things (eating well, remembering birthdays, laundry, flossing my teeth, vacuuming the car) get neglected? Oh, most certainly.


I also realized I DO have the wisdom to know what lives and what dies. Is my participation just people pleasing? YANK. Does this nurture the soul of someone I love? Feed and water. Am I trying to fix the world? YANK. Am I the only person who can meet this need? Give tender pats and weed carefully. With a lot of grace and much gratitude, my garden will grow. A bit wild some days, but hopefully the harvest will be bountiful, and oh so sweet.



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