To Plant a Garden

…is to believe in tomorrow. –Audrey Hepburn

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In the garden the peppers gave up for now, yielding enough to cover their cost, making them worthwhile, of course, for the fresh taste and the seasoning of satisfaction.

The cucumbers, too, have let me know they’re growing weary, pulling it together enough to hand over a few last small ones, but their withering leaves and the absence of new growth announce it’s time for me to head to Merryvale in the village to get the vegetables.

The tomatoes were the blowout. Early on I harvested bowls of cherry tomatoes, but they grew smaller and more tart, and now they seem to be spitting out just one or two here and there from behind brown vines, as if to say, “Wait, here’s another. You might as well eat it here. No point in ‘gathering’ them.” I haven’t yet done the accounting on the tomatoes but in the end each one might have cost me more than I care to admit. It reminds me of the man who grew a garden and kept an accounting only to find out each tomato cost about fifty-four dollars.

The eggplant win. I only had four plants, and one of them was behind what turned out to be a snake-sunning spot, but in the end, I harvested a whole bunch of eggplants, and while I can only eat so much of the stuff, it is rewarding nonetheless, which is why a garden to begin with.

I like taking from the earth—harvesting fruit and finding soil beneath my fingernails, the dirt under my feet, the unmistakable aroma of tomato vines, and cucumbers. I start the season with visions of baskets filled with big, ripe tomatoes, a row of peppers of various colors next to the bowl of string beans, which it turns out deer rather enjoy. Clearly reality digresses from the virtual image, but I never tire of spending time back there, behind the shed, noting the heat and feeling the hot sun on my back. There is always a buzz of flies and the occasional sound of a bee, and when I go back inside I have a sense of abandonment if I don’t get back there soon. And sometimes there are storms, downpours, but even in the rain—sometimes especially in the rain—I enjoy the peace, the absolute presence, of the garden.

It gives so much more than fruit. I have worked in my mind on more than a few writing projects there, and worked out some worries, burying them forever beneath the mulch and compost. I don’t listen to the news there, and I stopped listening to music. I prefer the eternal sensation that I am gathering from the garden in a fashion not unlike Thom Jefferson, Voltaire, or Cicero, who said if you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. I spent my Sundays out there not in conversation, but consultation with George Bernard Shaw who said, “The best place to find God is in a garden; you can dig for him there.” And, of course, Monet, who said, “The garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.”

It is art. Writing is not unlike the work in the soil outside. The high hopes before starting, the impatience, the need to weed and prune (Hemingway must have done a lot of pruning), and water. If we give well to the garden, it tells us stories, it feeds our imagination and seasons our lives, deliciously. Someday when I can no longer tend to the plants and vines, I’ll long remember the sun on my neck and the feel of taking a tomato or cucumber off the vine and resting it gently in the basket, and then its sweet taste that afternoon.

And I hope the garden remembers me. I wonder if someday when someone else clears out the area to garden, or even perhaps build, or plant grass, when someone has long impressed his own identity on this land, will some piece of me stay behind? Maybe someone will find an old rusty wire from the bean vines, or the rotted-out bottom of a basket I left too long in the soil one winter. Maybe someone will find herself humming a tune I left there in the spring air while turning over the ground for lettuce and squash. We try hard not to leave our mark in nature, allowing it to remain its trusted and pure self, but a part of me prays that if someone excavates the area that used to be “my” garden, he will find some inspiration.

 

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