In “The $64 Tomato; How One Man Nearly Lost HIs Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crises in the Quest for the Perfect Garden” we find the madness of a society that has lost its roots. The author, William Alexander, documents his bumbling high cost attempt to grow his own food. In order to produce a tomato that cost $64 to grow, he pays almost ten-thousand dollars for garden design and construction. For this much money, he could have constructed a bad to the bone hoophouse for propagation. Instead, he pours money into aesthetics, installing sod pathways between the rows. He says he spent $100 on gardening books, but he must not have red them.
A great tomato comes from hard work. The miracle of life takes care of the rest. We can imagine gently sewing seed that we saved last year, from a tomato we served for dinner. The seeds are coaxed from their earth in a greenhouse. They sit on a heat mat when it’s cold. They are transplanted into soil warmed by a cloche: clear plastic and reemay (they will always live more comfortably under their soft white blanket). Every few weeks, we can feed them with the hair and dust we sweep off the floor (it has the good stuff they need–micronutrients). Now: we can eat a free tomato.
The final few days of spring are here, almost time for winter. I heard a quotation recently, about a garden representing hope and investment in the future. Also: there is no time to look back in a garden–it’s simply pointless . . . .
The now in my garden: rows of fencing, improvised, Rube Goldberg-esque, to protect the beans, mint, tomatoes and strawberries from the chickens. Small cups of beer to trap slugs are diluted with rainwater. The weather keeps shifting from sun to rain, and back . . . .
Our heirlooms remind us of a time before convenience, before computers, before we counted hours with clocks. Life was visceral connection, immersion, survival. A breath of air was always fresh. This was when we worked together . . . .
Now that the sun’s back in the sky, everyone’s awake, reluctantly beginning their mornings. The night creatures have bedded down for the day, hiding until it’s dark. The grocer is driving to work, to sell produce he has only known in the store. The farmers are shuffle-hoeing, or else driving tractors outfitted with GPS, milking, feeding, sewing, transplanting, harvesting, processing, planning how to make sun, dirt and rain into food.
We are all in this together, bound by gravity and circumstance to a uncertain social and planetary destiny. Often it feels like we are thrashing about aimlessly when, in reality, we are learning to grow and thrive amidst life’s challenges and changes. Together, our strength is multiplied, and we succeed in pushing our way up through the soil to reach the sunlight, greeting a new day.
I once asked a master organic farmer: how did people farm before plastic? On a farm, plastic is central to production, from tarps to warm the fields, to hoop greenhouses, to sewing trays. Agriculture must have been raw and intimate hard work, before the invention of modern technologies such as plastic.
“It was hard work,” said the farmer. ”They spent a lot more time.”
We can imagine a world where young children helped their parents scoop handfuls of dirt. They carefully transplanted, saved seed religiously and tended crops with a level of care unknown today. We remember a world without cell phones and GPS. But we must imagine how much easier we really have it now.
World: let’s watch “Queen of the Sun”, the best movie about bees. It focuses on biodynamic beekeepers, so the eccentricities of the people that the film portrays are unparalleled. These beekeepers could accurately be described as mystics, gurus, or prophets. Maybe if we adopt some of their philosophies, we wouldn’t be in such a mess. ”Queen of the Sun” offers us a glimpse down the path of thoughtful, eccentric apiary management–which appears to be a potential antidote to our modern practices and failed traditions. We can do better . . .
See the kernels of sunlight sprinkled across the lawn . . . We’re turning into a new day’s glow, so all that shivering is over. We couldn’t fight the night, so we had to just ride it out, like a big wave that catches us as we’re tying to pull out.
It might be a wild ride, but it can be fun, too–if we can relax a little. At first we held tightly to the rails, white knuckled, tense from fear of falling, too stiff to try to stand. Knees, legs shaky, stomach flipping inside out, it felt like falling but it was more like flying.
It also seems like freedom: buoyant, lively, able, energized. When we are attuned to the enchained pulsations, our rhythms syncopate, and our song is born:
The trees are living instruments, like violins bowed by the rays of the sun. As the light streams past, each tree makes it’s own pitch, and the forest is a symphony. As the day goes on the song changes. It gets louder and softer, speeds up and down, changes melodies, and sometimes becomes a conspicuously beautiful audacious masterpiece.
Oh . . . Yes . . . The SUN . . . It finally feels like we’re starting to dry off. Sweet glory; we’re drinking sunlight. Now shade is good again. Now the plants will grow and the early morning birds will sing. And now rain will be a welcome respite.
Sometimes there is so much rain that it’s like being crushed by a wave. And held down. Until we almost can’t . . . Breathe, again; the SUN. A deeper breath. Again. Here’s another wave–quickly. Another one: take a deep breath. And, ready:
Boom. It’s like a prolonged slap, over and over again. It’s like life’s washing machine, stuck on high. It’s like life’s most essential element, falling from the sky . . . And all we have to do is stick out our cups.
Around here, everybody’s cup is running over. We have so much water, that our rivers rule the patterns of our lives. We have so much rain, that summer is what we think of, mostly, when we think good thoughts about our home. Around here, you need a good rain jacket. It’s an important part of our collective sense of fashion . . .
We don’t melt. If we go out in the rain now, then it will be easy for us when it gets sunny again. We can finally explore all the places that we’ve wanted to go. We’ll take a ride on the train. We’ll go to the mysterious secret crack in the earth. We’ll go to the furthest corner of the state, and shoot the rapids.
And our family will leave this place better than we found it.
Life needs room to grow. Leaves jostle for space, find it, and then shoot happily through openings. Otherwise, they curl sadly, and wait. So: it is good to be patient, whether you are a leaf or a person.
First patience, then action. Timing is everything. We can hold ourselves in positions of readiness, so that we are always poised for our moment, our chance to break through. If we are prepared for success, expecting it, then we will make manifest our dreams.
Some places are so flat people ski down garbage covered with grass. Sometimes we throw away things that are valuable. Sometimes we appreciate what we have; but often, we appreciate being reminded.
A stone’s throw from the garbage covered ski hill is a broad cultivated plain where farmers till the soil. Perhaps it’s a paradox, this precarious balance . . . Will it all last forever?
“You know, your Granddad asked me a very interesting question. He asked ‘What do you think God’s favorite color is?’”
I thought about it, and replied, “Blue.”
“That’s a very good answer . . . The sky is blue, the ocean is blue. But he had a different answer: green.”
I thought about it; my favorite color is green, too. It is so easy on our eyes that artists traditionally gazed at something green during breaks, to rest their eyes, to prevent eyestrain. It is the primary color of life.
Let’s keep the green patches that we have left. Let’s venerate the last few sacred wild spaces. Let’s leave the empty lots and forests, overrunning with green. So that we still have somewhere to soothe our eyes. So we can live.