The tangle of the year

One of the primary reasons for Thanksgiving was always the celebration of the end of the harvest and the promise of new growth. Home gardens wilted in the first November rains and the apples and herbs died out around the ides. The land goes from oregano and blanched green bean to tan and dust and brown and the leaves cover everything in preparation for snow.

I’m no outdoorsman. Our little Brooklyn garden is a mess and we’re lazy about weeding and pruning and pulling things back. Around this time I grab the last of everything — the last squash, the last peppers, the last herbs, and throw them into the Thanksgiving meal. I’m making pesto with the gone-to-seed basil, and the parsley, still green and hopeful, is going on as garnish.

We’re makers and doers and creators and we enter times of feast and times of famine. The last time I felt safe in my convictions was probably during the height of the 3D-printing craze. Here was a technology that could change the way we make things at home, the way kids learned, the way manufacturing worked. It and solar and bitcoin and natural electricity were the great hope of the second decade of the 21st century. They’re quiet now, the big promises never panning out as quickly as we had hoped.

But if you look closely, you can see how they grow.

My kids have three 3D printers at school and TinkerCAD is commonplace. People are still building new solar technologies, new fintech products, new electric vehicles. The shoots are there, waiting under the loam. They’re coming.

As we enter a few years of uncertainty we have to look back on the years of certainty for guidance. Were we too sure of ourselves? Did we think we knew too much? Sure. But was the world ready for what we brought? Heck, the world just got used to getting into some stranger’s Toyota Camry in Pittsburgh and riding to the airport. The world just got used to inviting strangers into their homes to stay for the weekend. The world just got used to the idea that the warming planet is a major problem to be solved and not a diversion. We’re learning.

This is a tangled time, an interstitial time. We are expecting great things, but we are just getting used to good things. The seeds we planted a decade ago are sprouting and the seeds we plant today will sprout in another decade. But we keep growing and we keep planting and we keep moving.

A garden is a promise to the future. It’s a promise that we will survive, that we will flourish. Imagine a barren waste where nothing can grow, a field locked in snow. And then imagine the promise of a garden, the promise of new life, seen through a frosted window. It’s enough to bring tears to a pioneer’s eyes, as I’m sure it did many times over the millennia. It’s just enough to give us hope.

Soldier on, makers. Soldier on, programmers. What you do today defines the future. What grows now dies and comes back endlessly, a tangle that feeds, educates and betters the world.