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.

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