Dream 1 – Harvesting Eggs
I’m working on the egg harvest. Our first task is to create long, nearly flat bowls of birch (aka: birth) wood for use in gathering eggs. The second is reviewing ancient texts to guide our work.
We find eggs in two places. The ancient eggs we find underground. The newer, common eggs we find above ground. My favorite technique is to harvest them from the end of beds. The eggs naturally roll there, become trapped, and hardly anyone realizes they’re there. Sometimes, I pat down the bed’s end; more often, I reach under the covers and carefully feel around. Usually, I find either none or several.
The shells of some eggs are hardly intact. Chicks begin pecking through others. Some chicks need patient nurturing; others are stillborn. Eggs and chicks are sent downstairs. We harvesters have to accept that, even if we feel a connection with an egg or chick, we have to ignore that because the harvest serves a higher purpose.
As the harvest is ending, I leave on break and return. The old woman who cleans up after harvest has a cat, dark green with orange splotches, badly mangled, hard to keep out of things. When we try to lock her cat in accounting, the hinges fall off so the door hangs irregularly. The only hope is that the cat’s accustomed to staying in that room where she can’t find new trouble.
Looking around, I see hardly any common eggs have been used. The old woman says mostly it’s the rare, ancient eggs that are used in research to find cures for human diseases; to treat people who contracted them; and, in maintenance of threatened species.
The egg processing area is a shambles, filled with common eggs, never used or broken and serving no purpose. I archive the ancient papers that guide our work. Sitting there, I too feel broken.
Dream 2 – Harvesting Decorative Funereal Gardens
Decorative funereal vegetable gardens adorn cemeteries with various shapes, colors, and visual textures while allowing for periodic harvests to feed a garden’s caretakers. To study such gardens, I visit them before the war, at the war’s height, and years after the war’s end.
The pre-war gardens fully serve their intended purposes. They decorate a cemetery, invite observers to experience the life cycle, and feed the garden’s tenders. Such gardens ideally include vegetables harvested above ground, such as cabbage, cauliflower, Swiss chard, brussels sprouts, and squash, and root vegetables, such as carrots, beets, rutabagas, and turnips.
During the war, the purposes for such gardens are lost. People treat them as if they produce perennials requiring minimal tending. There’s no fertilization, new planting, or crop rotation. Inadequately nourished, they come to be seen as failing. Harvests are performed haphazardly by renegades rather than timed to display the colors and forms through which such gardens pass over the seasons By war’s end, vanquished, such gardens are in ruin.
After the war, the rationale for such gardens is rediscovered. They offer ways to recover from war’s horrors by creating something beautiful while teaching about the life cycle and feeding a hungry people. Such gardens often begin in new locations because their wartime predecessors depleted the earth almost beyond repair. New, hardier, brighter vegetables displaying varied visual textures are featured in post-war gardens.
A paper about this long-term project, incorporating photos of gardens and harvests across three time periods is submitted to a referred journal, accepted without questions or changes, and promptly published. The cover’s contrast of oranges and purples has great eye appeal.
Dream 3 – Blighted Potato Harvest
In 1842, at the University of Dublin, a young professor named Eileen O’Connor with dual commitments in Math and Biology departments determines that, in two to three years, Ireland will face a potato famine. Farms won’t produce because the blighted potatoes will rot in the ground. Millions will be close to dying of hunger, especially those living close to the land. Many will die. Those who have the means and opportunity will drop everything, take the little they can, and leave, thus forsaking the country to “the will of God.” Dr. O’Connor argues the potato holds a vast portion of Ireland’s population in dire poverty and over-reliance on it places us at risk. This can be prevented if we act timely.
With her University’s support, she gains entre to Parliament, where they laugh at her because she’s from pitiful Ireland, a mere assistant professor barely recognized by her peers, not a member of the Church of England, and an agnostic, which they equate with atheist. Why should we believe this ungodly university woman whom nobody will ever take in marriage? After they laugh her back to Ireland, she can’t find an audience there either.
The famine comes. The potato harvest can’t even feed the pigs. Millions either die or pull up their roots, never to return.
Eileen O’Connor is back, warning that we face imminent threats a thousand times worse than Ireland. “The whole planet is at stake,” she says. “Without action, the whole food supply chain will go out of whack. In many please, what once grew will cease growing. We’ll be up against multiple pandemics directly affecting humans and another set affecting the planet’s capacity to support life. The solutions are partly known, partly unknown. To whom can we appeal? I won’t go down this time without a fight.”
Dream 4 – To Count and Be Counted
Ginger and I discover a small, crystal-clear lake. Stepping in she says, “It’s chilly.” Jumping in I say, “It’s delightfully warm.” After we resume walking, we realize we’re both naked below the waist and rush to cover ourselves by pulling our shirts down.
A sign across the street designates the church’s diocesan offices. I wonder whether they clothe the naked. Outside the building people sitting on park benches wear black plastic trash bags—the attire of the desperately homeless. Perhaps they’ll have a couple of extras. Up closer, I realize the bench warmers are military in casual dress, who carry their formal attire protected by trash bags. I approach one of the nuns sitting against the wall about our need for clothing. She calls on a novice to assist.
The novice says, “I don’t know whether we have a clothing store for the poor.” She disappears and returns. “I have an idea. Come with me into the back room.” I follow her. Ginger waits outside. Identical dark suits—black with thin blue stripes—hang from a succession of large racks. “Why don’t I just give you your census taker outfits early,” she says. “What do you mean? Is everyone going to be a census taker? Will everyone be required to wear those outfits?” The novice says, “I only know that everyone will count and be counted.” Without discussing sizes, she pulls two suits off the rack, one for me and one for Ginger. “I’m sure these will fit,” she says. “Thank you,” I say, and start putting on mine. I can’t wait to tell Ginger, “This is going to be great. There’s no reason to be afraid.”
Jim Ross has published in Bombay Gin, Barren, Columbia Journal, Friends Journal, Ilanot Review, Kestrel, Litro, Lunch Ticket, MAKE, New World Writing, Roanoke Review, The Atlantic, The Manchester Review, and Typehouse. A nonfiction piece led to a role in high-profile, documentary limited series.