On Saturday, I did three things respectively:
I planted a fall crop of bibb lettuce and kale; I wrestled chicken wire to build a fence around the box; and then I wiped sweat from my neck and dared the squirrels and deer to have a go at it. For good measure, I also took clippings of my own, brown hair and spread them over the dirt. Leanna gave me a haircut in her kitchen a few weeks ago and swept it into a big, furry pile.
“Want to save some for your garden?” she asked.
I did, though lining the lettuce bed with my hair is one of the stranger things I’ve done. It was weird and sobering to see a part of me fall into the ground— but, then again, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19).
Mrs. Betty was the first person I knew who used hair to fertilize her garden and keep away the rabbits. When she went through chemotherapy a few years ago, she collected the hair she’d lost and spread it on the flower beds hedging her cottage. Odd, yes. But there’s something sweet about it, too, as if she was giving away part of her beauty to the hydrangeas and peonies. She’d suffered a death in one way, but was growing things in another— practicing resurrection, as Wendell Berry would say.
So dead things can nourish new life in other things. That’s a grace.
One gray day last winter, Tom and his men came and cut down all the dead trees in our yard. When they chainsawed down The Green Monster — our home run fence and dear oak tree — I didn’t watch. Looking out my window was like looking over a burial ground.
Well, one of the men offered us the woodchips from the fallen trees. He backed his dump truck right over the garden and left us with a pile that I spent months shoveling and spreading. Come spring, and the woodchips had settled to make neat garden pathways. They decomposed into the soil, making it wet and rich.
And so fallen trees, I learned, have their purposes (just like fallen hair). Dead wood can fall into the ground and seep deep into the soil and nurture some other fledgling plant to life.
Come to think of it, God often used dead wood to do his saving work. The tabernacle was built from acacia trees that had fallen in the wilderness. Moses’s staff was nothing but a dead “stick of wood,” Francis Schaeffer points out, and yet it saved Israel from drowning and starving and dying at Pharoah’s hands.
And then there was the beam of wood that cut deep into Jesus and drew blood that seeped into the ground. Isaiah tells of a man who “gave [his] back to those who strike, and [his] cheeks to those who pull out the beard,” and so maybe Jesus’s hair fell to the earth, too (Is. 50:6). In the same turn of irony that brought life to my garden, Jesus’s dying body became lifeblood that ran to the roots of believing hearts and nourished them up, up, up toward the resurrection dawn.