I spent pretty much all day Saturday in my garden. It’s so beautiful –I think this year, 2007, is going to turn out one of the very best of my life. Yes, that is saying a lot. So –what is it about “a garden” that makes me say that?
First, I think it the closeness and the involvement in nature that it affords me. (Before I get too carried away on the benificence of nature, let us not forget that two days ago an earthquake killed hundreds of our fellow human beings in Peru, or that at this very moment a fierce hurricane –with the un-hurricanish name of ‘Dean’– has its eye on Jamaica where it intends to wreak havoc on life and limb and brick and mortar, and apparently cares not in which order. I suppose the answer is not to live in areas in which what I will term here as such “intolerable vulnerabilities” prevail. Here in New York I suppose one might always –or at least since 9.11– get blown up by terrorists, but I don’t know anyone who’s moving away, where one might die of boredom. I take that back. That was a terrible thing to say. Et cetera.)
But –back to Staten Island. And my garden. And seriousness.
And the closeness and benificence of nature. The growing force of nature seems endless; the variety of living things seems endless. And even the smallest living things seem endlessly complex; any examination reveals endless layers within layers.
A seed –planted in a little pot of earth and watered and put out in the sun– will, in almost every case, inside a few days, put up a leaf and put down a root, and given time and sufficient care, will become a plant, bearing flower and fruit. I planted many such seeds this year, and often have marvelled –yet again– at the fact of growth, and the thought that we humans, as complex and brilliant and capable as we are (I should perhaps correct myself and say “can be”) are so far from Creating Growth.
We humans, like the rest of creation (if I may use the term: remember, we have both the arrogantly simplistic creationists AND an increasingly dyspeptic Christopher Hitchens surveilling us these days), are nowhere when it comes to causing growth, turning the inanimate into the animate.
I don’t think that the creator of the “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” nursery rhyme had any inkling of the impossible, nay unanswerable, scientific, theological, and philosophical conundra (yes, there is a plural: I’ve just never used it before!) posed by the second line:
“How does your garden grow?”
How indeed? By the Grace of God? Photosynthesis?
But –I digress. Here’s how my garden grows: magnificently, profusely, unstinting. The tomato plants alone: they surpass themselves. They grow to the sky; they give their fruits endlessly. (I have taken to bringing bags of freshpicked cherry tomatoes and basil leaves to my ungreenthumbed Manhattan friends at Bruno’s.)
Tomato plants to the sky? Yes, many of them are eight feet tall, or more. They are all staked –tied to stakes like poor Giordano Bruno– but unlike Giordano, flourish even more because of it. That is the great fact of tomato life that I have discovered this year –staking.
It is my love of tomatoes that drove me to gardening in the first place: for many years I have eaten tomatoes every day –mostly in salsas with a beer and lime juice, and a couple of toasted corn tortillas cut by scissors into halves and then snipped into five more or less equi-sized pieces. The other great tomato dish –a favorite from my early days back in Ireland– is the fried tomato with bread and butter breakfast. And then there is the tomato sauce for pastas. And homemade Cream of Tomato soup –made with half and half, and a touch of garlic– surpasses even the Campbell (or other) canned version, which in itself is –for my money– probably the most successful thing that man has put in a can. To date.
Before My Garden, I bought tomatoes anywhere I could get them, sometimes for outlandish prices, but often reasonably priced in Chinatown or even at my local Western Beef supermarket. Off season they come from Florida, or further south, wherevere that is. The best of them –eg those nice red vine-attaced ones– can be not too bad. But the worst have that Mortuary Waxen Palest Pink look to them, tautly shrinkwrapped and dead and unresponsive to a prodding digit.
This year I have never had so many good ripe freshpicked tomatoes in my life –from Cherries to Beefmaster, and Roma, and Early Girl. If I have any regrets, it is not to have explored in time the Heirloom Tomato –that fancy “Food Section” name for the original saved-seed tomato varieties that have become so popular.
And outrageously expensive! (I finally figured out why Heirloom Tomatoes are so expensive: it’s the INHERITANCE TAX!)
I did take one trip out on my bike this morning –to our local greenmarket. Got little new fresh-dug potatoes for a dollar a pound and red and yellow onions for the same; corn four for a dollar –picked out for me by the old Staten Island farmer who grew them himself– and a nice big bunch of cilantro, the everpresent ingredient, along with hot peppers (Thai or Serrano or other) and fresh lime juice, of my daily salsas.
On my way out of the house, with bike, who do I see –sprawled regally and shamelessly in the middle of Stone Street– but Puss, our big local black cat (who nobody owns but Puss). Sleeping in the middle of the street, in the shade of a leafy tree that we had managed years ago to cultivate and grow in situ.
Stone Street, I should say, is the smallest street in all New York. And the quietest. And the shadiest –I mean “leafy”, as opposed to “criminal activity”.
I am surprised. Of all the surprising places that I have seen Puss in, I have never seen him in this surprising place. I salute him, voice rising: “Puss! Nice to see you!”.
“Oh no. Not him.”: Puss raises his head up off Stone Street, the merest grudging millimeter, for the merest grudging few seconds, before he flops it back down again.
From Puss, this is Acknowledgment, Benediction, even.
Blessed, I pedal off on my bicycle to the Greenmarket.