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Oleander - The Farmer as Artist

Franz Kline
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Folks, when I was a boy, I spent hours every summer in the garden, picking a feed sack full of green beans one week, a bucket of cherries another, a basket of beets, or a bushel of tomatoes.  I dug potatoes—russet and sweet—and pulled onions.  I picked peppers, and pickled peppers, just like Peter Piper.  My mother was the piper, and I paid her by bringing the harvest to her kitchen, where she pickled beets, canned tomatoes and green beans, sorted potatoes, braided onions, boiled cherries with sugar and pectin into preserves, and began to ferment cabbage into sauerkraut.  All summer long we worked.
            “You grow too much,” I complained one hot September afternoon after spending two hours picking and pickling peppers.
            “I grow what we eat, and what we will eat,” she said.  “It’s good to have reserves.”
            Folks, I’ve been thinking about reserves, the setting aside that guarantees abundance.  What my mother set aside guaranteed my meals come frost.  When she preserved her reserves, she was working with past knowledge, with present resources, and assuring all of us an abundant and satisfying future.   
            A reserve can also be a place, one of safety, where plants and animals and ways of life can survive and thrive—where they can be preserved.  When we commit to preservation, we not only honor the past, we bring it into a future that will contain what we value most.  Might be grassland, or buffalo, or buildings, or historical sites, or cultural heritages.
            Goodness, how my mother reserved space on the shelves in her pantry.  Empty Ball and Kerr jars, empty crocks, empty bottles.  All were filled and returned to the space reserved for them.  Red tomatoes, red cherry preserves.  Purple beets.  Green beans, green peas, green pickles, green and yellow squash.  Cabbage, shredded and brined, the acrid smell wafting to the nose.  Bottles, purple with elderberry wine, golden with dandelion wine.  The baskets of red and green apples, of peaches, of brown potatoes, of orange sweet potatoes.  And the onions hanging from hooks.  I could open the pantry door any day and see future meals, see sustenance, see love and care and concern in a rainbow of colors.
            Folks, a rainbow is a promise.  Preserves are a promise.  Reserves are a promise.  Unfortunately, we live in a state with few promises, because we haven’t held much in reserve.  We mine our oil, our gas and our water as if we’ve never known winter.  We spend out of retirement funds, highway funds, any extra dollar, “squeezing blood from a turnip,” as my mother used to say, instead of growing more turnips, or bleeding the wealthy for their rightful share of the tax burden.  Our current state government has no reservations, seemingly, about what future they are creating.  And, with the exception of an amazing State House, they are certainly not preserving the historical and cultural and artistic traditions of Kansas. If they could find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, they would not share it, they would steal it.
     Yet, it seems to me that most Kansans would side with my mother.  They would want reserves, and they would want to preserve.  They would want the rainbow to be the promise of a future.  They would applaud preservation.  They would want the best of the past and present to survive into the future.