And so, when I wrote and finished it this morning in August, it automatically whisked itself back in time to the former date. I do apologize. Would that it were so easy to transport in time like that---I think I'd go back to 1957 every Friday to buy groceries and fill up the car.
Chris plants and tends the tomatoes. He measures out the Miracle-Gro, waters, ties up with gentle bands. He picks and critiques and enjoys his crop every year. I think the sheer growing of a thing, the shoring it up and helping it along, is a fulsome gift and a fulfilling craft.
Our tomato plants and the herb garden have burst out into great giants of flavor, the tomatoes in their huge pots heaving themselves out and up into a jungle of lush green studded with all sizes of round fat globes in every shade from jade to pale gold to dusky bronze to the deep promising red of a perfect vine-ripe.
My own well-meaning farmer leanings are expressed in the pulling and tending, as well. We returned from breakfast last week, and I strolled out to have a look at the herb garden. The lawn-mowing men were coming in the afternoon, and I hoped that they might make mowed-sense of the tangleknot that the round herb beds had become. It had rained mightily the day before, and the damp ground was easy beneath my feet.
So I reached, and grasped a handful of tall-grown stuff beside a basil plant. The satisfying CRUTTTTTSH of the unearthing, roots and dirt, of the handful from the night-rained earth was a moment of revelation, somehow. It came loose, dropping clots of black dirt, and with it, its root-bed future. The long green-growth spikes of grass and the heavy dirt-cluster at the end felt in my hand like those weighted-ribbons-on-strings of my childhood, and the resemblance satisfied a memory, I think---I'd clutch a handful, skrunch it out of the ground, and as I lifted and flung, it sped on its dirt-led trajectory several yards from my hand. I was off on a chase of grab-and-toss, littering the edge of the fenceline with piles and piles of weeds-to-wilt, and hearing my creaky old knees protest the bending.
I did not cover the entire garden, (a metaphor itself, perhaps) but I did make great bare circles of dark earth around each plant. And when the mowers arrived, I went with them to the garden, holding back each herb-limb from harm as the roaring blades approached, and we three danced there, in a dip-and-sway-and-lunge ballet, to the tempo of those great gnawing machines, til they’d made the loveliest little manicured lawn, punctuated by the now-recognizable herbs, their fragrances loosed to the air by hand and step as we worked.
I came in scented with sage and oregano, lavender and thyme, with a small bagful of basil leaves, some tips of mint for the tea, a floppy branch of spiky tarragon for the chicken.
The mint-perfumed chill of the tea, the lush licorice of the grilling chicken, the clean of the after-garden shower---all that rounded off the day in a satisfying way. It was a G-rated version of the intense R and X of the true farmer---no blisters, no sunburn, no salt tablets or shade-seeking or pouring of water over an overheated head. It was silly in its ease---not as low as the affectations of Marie Antoinette as farm-maid with her little gold trowel, but an easy thing, nothing to brag of. But it was real, somehow, that small bit of grubbing in the dirt; it was a carrying-on of the seeking-out and the cultivating.
I can one-hand finger-count the years when we haven't had a garden---it's just been a lifelong thing for me since I was old enough to drop a seed or shell peas in a pan. I've hoed and planted and watered and picked and canned and cooked---doing the work of taking the bounty seed-to-table all on my own. I've squatted in the pea-patch and in the beanrows til my back protested and the sweat-salt blinded my eyes. I've hit the garden before daylight, so as to be there before the heat of the day, and laid the last shelled/blanched/cooled bags into the freezer when the clock and sun had gone full-round into the next unforgiving dawn.
And so the now is such an insignificant thing, a patch of herbs and a few tomato plants. It's the gentle-lady's equivalent of the great acreage of the ago, but it holds the charm of the seeds' secrets as fully as a field stretched to the horizon. Our one petunia in a pot carries the weight of an endless cornfield in its bones. What we ask and receive of the earth and the sun and seed is old as Time, and just as magical.