It’s only February but the cherry tomatoes pay no attention to the calendar. For them, this mild winter is a minor interruption in their quest to produce. Frost has not yet made an appearance this winter in Southern California. Sure, it’s cold, but in the absence of frost, the plants remain busy. So busy, in fact, that the entire surface of my three-foot-by-eight-foot section of tomato plants is a grand display of sun-yellow flowers and fire-engine-red fruit in equal measure. I expected some flowering–many of the other plants in the backyard think it’s spring, too–but I didn’t expect to pick nearly a quart of tomatoes this week.
Today, I harvested some miniature tomatoes, no more than a quarter inch wide. I laughed while collecting them because I couldn’t help but recall a scene from the Tom Hanks movie, “Big.” In it, Tom’s character eats a miniature ear of corn in big-corn style at a cocktail party. He naively holds each end of the cob with his fingertips, twirls it slowly, and nibbles at it left-to-right and back again, advancing the cob as he goes as if it were a platen on an old typewriter. That image is etched in my mind, and, now, whenever I see tiny versions of larger food, I chuckle. But, contrary to those tasteless miniature corn cobs, the tomatoes this winter are surprisingly sweet, as sweet as their springtime counterparts. This particular batch delights me more than the spring’s harvest because it seems to me these plants had to exert an awful lot of energy to produce these little beauties off season.
It got me thinking . . . you never know what’s going on inside when somebody appears to be dormant–in the midst of their winter. For some people, it’s when they do their best work. They look forward to winter’s handy excuse to retract from the mainstream and focus on the inner stream–the one that replenishes the soil of the soul.
Even when one appears to be in an off season and not producing anything at all, somewhere underneath that barren surface, progress is being made. Often I feel the past few years of my life have been my least productive. It appears I don’t have a lot to show for my efforts to transition from mainstream existence into a more authentic life. But, if I consider where I was three years ago, two years ago, even just one year ago, it’s clear I’m making progress; I’m finding my way.
For some, it’s been a particularly long winter. For others, it’s only just begun. Wherever you are in life, it’s important in your off season to do what needs to be done. Whether that’s feeding your creative soul, or digging in deep to uproot a gnarled up mess of dead vines before you can produce again. Whether creating your best work, healing from a tough year, or kneeling in gratitude, whatever you accomplish in the off-season is important to your continued growth. You may not see the fruits of your labor right away. They may be too small to notice. But, rest assured, progress is being made. As long as you pay attention to the subtle changes of the seasons and pace yourself accordingly, you will always produce your best, even when winter is upon you.