Walking the circle.

June 1, 2012 § 2 Comments

The European tradition of storytelling is linear—the main character starts somewhere and ends up somewhere completely different. This story-form views life as a tale of change and progress.

Native American stories walk the well-worn path of seasons and cycles that repeat.

I may tell linear stories, but in real life I prefer the native American story-form. Life walks a circle and I like it that way.

Take vegetable gardens. They happen every year—twice for the dedicated gardener, winter and summer.

I am now at the hopeful beginning of the summer garden season, a season that has risen again and again over the horizon of the year for me, and for my father, putting in Jersey tomatoes in Princeton Junction, and for my grandfather, thumbing pea seeds into the ground in Congers, New York.

Although most gardeners gamble on a few varieties that would thrive best elsewhere, geography dictates the success of what we grow. Wish I could raise the rhubarb and parsnips those northern gardeners produced, but in the end every gardener yields to climate and the geology of a patch of ground.

Mine is a southern garden growing in pure sand.

Since the phenomena at hand—a summer garden—is an annual event I get to observe the repetitions, like the way a tomato grows to full size, then sits there green for the longest time before tuning red (frustration is the mother of fried green tomatoes).

Year after year we fight familiar enemies. This is not a big lubber grasshopper year. We are grateful. But just as we have for the past three summers, we’re disputing the fire ants over who gets to eat the eggplants.

Each year presents something new.

This year’s “new” includes the discovery that the termites in the wood of the raised beds will also attack woody vegetable plants. The peppers are going down, one after another.  And like anyone who gets seed catalogs in the mail, every year I introduce new varieties of vegetables—who can resist? The Purple Beauty peppers (the ones not planted in the termite-riddled bed) are gorgeous, almost black, but I won’t be planting them again. They taste like grass clippings.

Most promising in the new variety department are tomatoes from our friend Larry Moses. The seedlings arrived in a paper cup. The varietal name is long-lost but they produce small yellow cherry tomatoes. Larry grows his in a pot on his porch in Frenchtown. Ours are climbing the fence at the back of the garden.

The weather has been, by turns, mean and benevolent. Fooled by a deceptively warm stretch of winter weather our blueberry bushes bloomed. Then the weather snapped cold. On the heels of last year’s bumper crop we may end up with enough blueberries to sprinkle on a bowl of cereal.

In the benevolent department we’ve had good rain lately. The vegetables are growing fast.

The first tomatoes are coming in. So are cucumbers, summer squash and sweet bell peppers.

Watching the way the vegetables are growing, I predict a hot summer ahead.

The plants are setting and ripening fruit fast, following the genetic imperative to reproduce before something kills them.

Our summers are what kill summer gardens. Vegetables will not set fruit above a certain temperature and we hit that temperature much earlier than any northern gardener ever experiences.

But there is always the next garden. And I’ll be thinking about that garden as the present one succumbs to the heat.

For the gardener, life walks a circle. And I like it that way.


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§ 2 Responses to Walking the circle.

  • The sun refuses to shine on my vegetables. A huge acacia tree blocks the morning sun and a japanese maple shades the afernoon. Spots of light decorate spaces on the driveway. Only irony ripens in my square of Southern Calif.


  • KM Huber says:

    “She’s coming alive!” is the line that kept running through my head as I read this post. I know it’s from the movie version of The Education of Little Tree but don’t remember if it is in the book. While the line refers to the sun rising, it seems quite appropriate for gardening.

    I agree that the summer on the horizon seems a hot one. Sigh, wilt….


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