Sunday, July 17, 2011

Again we come to mid-July

The red line in the thermometer creeps upwards with the sun. Days are frighteningly long and the air doesn't cool until it is bordering on dusk and the mosquitoes are out. Either work is done frighteningly early in a race against the heat or beneath a ball of fire with skin shifting towards crimson and sweat rivers cutting through the dust on your face.

But the garden is parched and desperately needs tending. Somehow weeds have taken hold and are threatening to suck precious moisture away from the plants that matter. And the plants that matter are wilting, turning brown, fading, tired. The dirt was rich and dark at the onset of spring but now it too is tired- clumped and hard, unyielding.

And even now, under unending glare, it is time to plant. Yes there are already green tomatoes on the vines, some well watered peppers may even be ready to eat and you've already harvested the radishes and eaten plenty of salads until the lettuce turned bitter. But the summer is peaking. The Sol you presently curse is drifting downwards again and while the heat will persist, the hours for growing will not. This is the time to think of snow. For it is the seeds planted with hope, diligence and sweat NOW that will produce the best vegetables for the long winter hibernation.

Last year I kept herbs, a tomato plant and peppers alive through the winter. I not only had a tomato on Christmas but through the rainy spring when nothing else could be planted. True these were only cherry tomatoes and perhaps only one a week. But each globe turning red hinted at the life that would be possible when the white melted in to green. And this plant is still alive and still producing from a big blue pot tucked into a garden in NY. Not a heavy-yielder by any means but definitely persistent.

My impulse to put hands into soil has led me to gardens in three states this summer. Most plants were started in pots on a NH deck and moved to NY and PA. I last heard that the zucchini are ready...and fantastic. A late spring meant plants were still for sale in ID so with a fools ambition I put peppers and tomatoes in the ground with a host of perennial herbs and 100 feet of soaker hose. Perhaps I will only feed a bear but it was worth my time to try. Here I recently added more tomatoes because the store is eager to let them go.

And each time dirt slipped under my fingernails I saw analogies to my life. It is no wonder so many parables slant in this direction. As it is mid-July for my garden, so too it is mid-July for my soul. I've only a trowel to dig out the roots of long ignored weeds but I've tomatoes waiting to be lifted from pots and set into the dirt. Purple, pink and striped heirlooms, each with the promise of viable seeds for a new generation. I cannot wait to see this harvest and on this side of the sunburn I am confident that it will be worth the sweat.