Driving home from church Sunday, after a perfectly lovely Christmas morning service, the groves surrounding our towns spoke to me. Their silence said “We’ve been abandoned.” While I was off in Bethlehem mentally, and in its surrounding fields with the shepherds and angels under a dark sky hearing the good news that the Messiah had arrived, the citrus trees confined to their orderly rows and long irrigation lines, stuck in the good earth that hardly anyone knows well enough to love anymore, the trees said “We’re still waiting.”

It shook me to hear, see, feel this. In decades past, I have found myself frustrated by the hiatus in my work the holidays caused. I thought it was just me, the Scrooge, complaining. This was the first time the earth raised its voice in protest.

Or maybe it’s just the first time I heard it. For the past year I’ve been circling in on the different view of God that emerges when the earth and its original inhabitants—the whole of Creation, and not just those of us created on the last day of the week—are seen as God’s concern. It’s in the Bible, in the Yahwist writings, in the Celtic Christian tradition and elsewhere; it just hasn’t been taught much in the centuries of Christendom reigned over by Rome.

Those trees, standing in the fog, bearing fruit in the cold of winter—what a sight they were, each tree its own individual self despite decades of plant breeding to make them identical. Like us, or the Chinese, or the Palestinians under fire by their half-brothers, or the Ukrainians under fire by theirs:  each one of us our own individual selves despite categorizations that reduce us to lesser types, becoming disposable. This truth is what made God send his only Son, to save us from the hell we create for each other, to save us from buying in to that lie. At least, that’s my interpretation of salvation—you probably have your own.

But the trees are not just a stand-in, a metaphor. These groves around Lindsay and Exeter, Farmersville and Woodlake, Ivanhoe and Strathmore—and yes, Dinuba and Cutler-Orosi, Reedley, Sanger and Del Rey—they all used to be tended and kept by families, for better or worse. The food these families raised was sold for money used to support their needs, to buy goods and services from their local merchants, providing taxes that supported their schools and towns, providing energies for community betterment. These groves were our salvation, all those people who immigrated here and got a foothold on a little piece of land. The families making decisions about the groves understood the impact those decisions might have on the community. People were able to understand themselves as part of the whole through their stewardship of the land.

Only shreds of that creative, real wealth-generating fabric are left. What we have now are teams of workers hired by investor-based “grower” corporations running from block to block “maintaining” the land on a schedule drafted in an office nowhere near the groves. The wind machines are run electronically and turn on and off regardless of actual need, while the trees replacing the hardy navel and valencia oranges (mandarins and lemons) are more frost-susceptible in a time of increasing climate extremes. When a freeze takes the crop, the insurance companies cover the investors while the rest of the community involved in agriculture, like the field workers and repair shops, the truck drivers and pesticide guys, all take the hit.

Those who focus only on the New Testament do not understand that this situation is exactly the abomination in Old Testament times that made the people called Israel call out for a savior. The tiny plots of land the peasants had to tend and keep were barely enough to feed a family, while the kings and priests cultivated huge acreages (with gangs of peasant labor) to support their armies and temples in the grandest manner. The produce from their vines, fig trees and wheat fields was not used to feed families, but to trade for metals, fine woods and gold, a clump of sins far greater than the David-Bathsheba-Uriah incident. But I have not heard that preached once, at least around here.

And so the trees preached that message to me on Christmas morning coming home from church. May we start to hear that lonely song in the coming year, and find a way to respond.

Trudy Wischemann is a voice crying in the wilderness of Tulare County. You can send her your angel sightings and grove whisperings c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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