Transcendence in the Garden

red green cropFor something with such a material result, gardening is mysteriously satisfying to the spirit. Tomatoes can be beautiful, but I grow them to eat. I grow them for a material benefit to my physical body. But I buy most of the food I eat and could easily buy all of it; why do I garden? The transformation of dirt, water, seed, and sunlight into a substance nourishing to cell and sinew, supplying the gardener with the power to move, think, and write blog posts, is the most ordinary fact of existence on earth; still, the ripe tomato in my hand seems miraculous.

Gardens have been connecting people to the cosmos like this for as far back as we have stories about it. Time, our oldest literature tells us, began in a garden, and the garden was where we learned to tell good from evil. I’m still doing that in mine, sorting the processes that help my plants from those that hurt them. They aren’t always obvious, and it’s done mostly by trial and error. The triumphs of understanding, when they come, feel like sudden little windows opening into the great wide secrets that the whole universe has always known.

I went out to the garden to gather the green tomatoes, because a frost was red one leafpredicted overnight. Ripening is what tomatoes do, and they will continue to do it indoors, slowly, without leaf or vine. It is in them to do it; they participate directly in that large universal scheme. The vines spent the night open to the cold sky and this morning they are withered, the blackened leaves of tomato plants sifted over by red leaves falling from the nearby maples. I stand in this wide sweep of time, lifted into the flow of seasons, and for the moment not even needing to make plans.

A Path in the Woods

path 1This is what some of that ambition led to. We ran out of New York Times and had to use packing paper, brown paper grocery bags, and random pieces of cardboard for the base. Many barrowloads of mulch later we had a lovely winding path with places to stop and look, or sketch, or sit. My idea was to mark out areas where certain plants could be encouraged or yanked out – confining (good luck) raspberry brambles here; spreading a fern bed (more likely) there. It also made it possible to visit the redbud and the kousa dogwood we’d planted back deep. If I can find more shrubby perennials this late I will plant them in the bends of the path, but it may have to wait for spring.path 4


The woods are thinning out a little with autumn, but it seems to be way behind again this year. The only red in my yard is on the slowly flourishing late tomatoes. Maybe this is the new normal.

We put a white wrap around selected tree trunks to keep the deer from stripping the bark any more than they already have. I still wish, if they’re going to ruin my trees, they’d have the courtesy to shed their antlers where I could find them. With all the deer traffic in my yard, you’d think at least I could have some souvenirs.