In a sense, today is the last full day of vacation for me. Tomorrow, along with ensuring Hans catches his plane back home, I will write a sermon and sometime around 4:30 or 5:00, the internal shift that happens on the way to Sunday morning services will kick in. Today we will visit Selma and an old abandoned cluster of houses down by the river that make for cool photography. We’ll swim and I will do the last bits of gardening I set myself to do as part of my stay-cation. My big brother has a keen and witty sense of humor, he has kept Sherod and me in stitches all week long—I think the laughter, more than anything, has made this a most wonderful time.
As things wind down, these are the gleanings: no two growing seasons are alike. For all kinds of reasons, both understood and mysterious, the weeds in the garden really bested us this year. I’ve been in charge of harvesting most of the week and most of the week, I’ve found myself tossing one tomato after another because it was mushy and nasty on the bottom—blossom rot, I think they call it. Weeds become fearsome after a certain point—putting my hands down into plants overgrown with weeds, I have been fearful that I’d get bitten by a snake, or some biting kind of bug—not so fearful I wouldn’t do it, but mindful that the risk had increased significantly.
How fruits and vegetables ripen,the timetable for harvesting, continues to be a mystery to me. Every morning this week, I’ve been out picking blueberries, intent on figuring out how to accurately predict which berries would ripen next. Each morning I’ve realized I’m clueless, not able to see patterns of any kind though I remain convinced they’re there. It would make things easier, I would probably be more efficient and effective if I could figure that out, but there is something to be said about not knowing, about the practice of looking carefully, going slowly enough to make sure the berries I’m about to pick are blue all the way around—the ones that aren’t will have a patch of deep garnet red that’s beautiful—and will add a lot of acidity to anything I prepare with them.
It probably sounds more than a little hokey, but not knowing which berries will be ripe for picking in the morning makes me more grateful, as I find each berry that’s ready and carefully put it in the trug I use for my harvesting.
Last year, one of my main jobs was picking the green beans. That hasn’t changed this year. Remembering the large harvest of last year, I got ready to start this year all confident about doing this thing. I had to learn how to see again. The bean pods are so similar to the stems and branches of the bean bushes that it takes very deliberate seeing to find them. I’m finding the rhythm again and have remembered the places on the bushes where I am most likely to find the beans to pick but here too, I have to be careful and attentive. These are the vegetables that require me to bend over the furthest and each year, I am a year older; I actually feel it, though after a few days, it seems like my back aches a little less and I have more stamina. Even the body forgets, doesn’t it?
And then, there is the absolute delight in watching my brother discover the glory of a real tomato, freshly picked and still warm, and what it tastes like with a bit of good olive oil, some salt and a nice slice of bread. Nothing makes me feel like I am extending real hospitality like being able to offer something we’ve grown ourselves.
My flowers are good, though the heat has meant I have fewer roses blooming and I’ve been experimenting with drip irrigation, determined to be a better steward of water. Today, my last bit of gardening will be to assemble a trellis and start training one of my roses to climb it.
Along with the laughter and visit and good meals, the work has been steady so at night, I’ve crawled into bed dead tired, asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow. I hold lightly, but thankfully, the sense of safety and belonging that comes from sharing a bed with the man I love, with our cat Spot asleep where I can feel her against my feet, and as I am lulled by the gentle snores of Daisy on the floor on my side of the bed, and Mo on Sherod’s side.
It sounds like life is good in southern Alabama. We had so much rain in the middle of Spring I was unable to get beans, squash, and tomatoes, in the ground, until the first of June. We are getting to pick a bit of squash and the first row of beans should be ready in about a week. I won’t see a tomato until the end of July. The rain caused a lot of weeds, but so far I have been able to keep up with them. (It helps to be a full-time farmer.) Oh, and I use a small IKEA stool to sit on when I pick my beans. It takes a little longer but saves my back!