Late this morning the sun came out again, and shined on all the droplets of dew and fog. I had a date to keep in town, but I noticed through the window that the fountain was dripping instead of flowing, so I went out to put the hose in there for a few minutes. Of course I saw many glowing leaves and caught the scent of decay. How can decomposition smell so fresh, and how does the earth’s breathing wake up my whole body?
I took a few pictures and then I was happy to be on my way, on to the community garden to meet my friend Bella where we have been together a few times before. Strolling through other people’s gardens is thoroughly relaxing and nourishing; lots of interest and no responsibility. A garden comprised of dozens of gardens, each with its special personality, is even better.
Often we get to take home some treats, for immediate food or for seeds. Bella found ears of corn lying in the path, and she showed me where a few beans hung from a trellis, the seeds somehow still dry and clean inside the mildewed pods. How could I not bring a few home to try? The way those beans offered themselves suggested a small planting, which is not intimidating. And they are intriguing Mystery Beans to me as yet; does anyone here know what kind they are? Such a dreamy-creamy color… (below).
After my first big greenhouse planting project last winter, and the way so many of my starts did not take off, or for various reasons never bore fruit in my own garden, I am ready this spring to try just a few things, a few seeds…. a more minimalist garden.
What if my pumpkins had been successful, and I’d ended up with half a dozen of those gorgeous French cucurbits such as I roasted yesterday? They would have been too heavy for me to lug around the neighborhood as gifts.
I picked a bagful of meaty, rainwashed collard leaves from Bella’s plot, and the sweetest parsley ever from the free-for-all borders. The calendulas I gave my friend last spring are still blooming there under the collard canopy, and looking wintery — the sun may be bright on days like today, but its rays are sharply slanted, and every image is darkened by shadows.
Another plot owner was there with his teenage daughter, whose name I didn’t learn, but I will call her Maria. They gave me cilantro from their bed, a generous bunch of it, which I’m sure was the most fragrant I’ve ever got a whiff of, just picked after being hydrated for weeks. Maria came to talk to me while I was bent over the parsley, and we chatted about cooking. She filled me in on the hearty ham-and-eggs meal she had helped to make for breakfast this Saturday morning, and agreed that cooking for only oneself the way I do would be difficult.
Her father José talked about how his children don’t like to come to the garden with him. Maria explained, “We never want to bother getting out of bed and going outside unless something is happening that day, if we are going somewhere or people are coming over….” She smiled when I said, “Oh, but things are happening here: the plants are busy growing!”
Today, of course, was unlike any other, and I felt the restfulness of January, and cautioned how it would not even be a good idea to pull weeds when the soil was so wet. Maria and her father seemed quite contented. She may have had the same unconscious rejuvenating response in her body and psyche that Bella and I were having, being in the open air surrounded by trees and grass, fava bean plants and every kind of brassica exhaling oxygen. And Maria did get to be with people.
After our new friends left, Bella and I wandered up and down the rows, admiring every leftover bit of life, such as two tiny bright red peppers clinging to dead stick stems. We examined a banana tree that appeared to have been stricken by frost, but we hoped not killed. And we sat at a picnic table listening to the tinkle of the wind chimes, as hummingbirds swooped back and forth over our heads. It was a simple gift of a day.
My parish has a team of bakers who prepare not only the loaves that eventually go into the cup of Holy Communion, but two other forms used in other ways in the services. There are several people who take turns making the dough in the church kitchen early in the morning on baking days, and different people who finish the process, shaping, baking, bagging and finally storing the loaves in a freezer. These top two pictures are of some exemplary loaves we’ve made recently.
This morning I was on the baking team, and when I turned the dough out of its big stainless steel bowl and began to handle it, right away it seemed to me that it had already been kneaded too much. Those of you who make bread know that kneading develops the gluten and makes the dough stretchy; but did you know that if you go on working the dough too long, the molecules of gluten get damaged, and there is no repairing them? The dough begins to tear instead of stretching, and the resulting loaves do not look smooth but rather lumpy.
I don’t recall how the texture of the baked bread is affected by this problem. I read that the loaves will be heavy and dense, but my finished loaves didn’t seem to be much smaller than usual; we don’t sample them, but we can get reports from the priest as to the quality when he cuts it in the altar, and I will be sure to do that next week.
When I was finished with baking for the morning, it was lunchtime, and I stayed on the property to eat the food I had brought to sustain me during the afternoon when I needed to run several more errands. The air was cool and still; I sat at a table in the garden and read the story of St. Gabriel of Georgia who was commemorated today.
I admired the layout of the fruit trees and ground cover that have replaced the lawn. Roses and other flowers had been drizzled on for a few days and were sparkly, especially when the sun came out from behind the clouds, just as I was leaving.
Two of my afternoon stops were at friends’ houses. First my godmother, who with her husband plants a huge garden every year, and they wanted to share their harvest of pie pumpkins, since I didn’t manage to get any from my own garden this year. If it hadn’t been so muddy from the heavy rains we got, I’d have wanted to walk up and down the rows there, because I know it smelled good; instead, I stood gazing out over the landscape of soggy tomatoes fallen from their vines, spied the remains of the pumpkin patch in the distance (all the fruits had been removed), and passed through a field of tiny green blades of freesia sprouts.
From there, I drove west to where my friends Mr. and Mrs. Bread live and keep a charming homestead that my late husband used to say evoked a French country garden. Mrs. Bread and I have traded many plants over the years, sometimes things that we have grown or propagated ourselves. Lately she has grown apricot trees from pits, and she gave me one of those, and a Meyer lemon tree she started!
I feel lucky that the trees do not need to go into the ground soon, though one of them might benefit from a larger pot. The fact is, it will be a squeeze to fit them in here, but I know I can do it if I have a year to figure out the puzzle challenge. I’ll have to show you a picture of my new little trees later; it’s dark now, and my day is coming to an end. It was a little bit of commercial, but that was of relatively little interest. The agricultural and culinary aspects of the day were the fun and satisfying parts — and I was glad for the hagiographical introduction to Fool-for-Christ Gabriel, too. Glory to God for all things!
From my planter boxes I pulled up and cleaned out parsley, zucchini, chives and Love-in-a-Mist; butternut and pumpkin vines, and a volunteer zinnia. When I went after the sea of overgrown chamomile, its warm and bittersweet aroma comforted me in the midst of that violent afternoon’s work. I don’t think I used one leaf of basil this summer; I just wasn’t home enough to take care of the garden in general, or to use half of its produce.
My pumpkins, grown from seed and nurtured in the greenhouse, were a complete flop! But one plant I gave to my neighbors produced 22 pumpkins, so one morning I found these on my doorstep:
Now I’ve sealed the boxes against winter, and added several inches of good soil. Still to do: organize and plant all those beautiful succulents that my friends gave me in the last few months, and put seeds into the dirt.
I had fun with Bella the other day at the community garden where she tends a plot. We always like to look around at what the other gardeners are doing, and to forage along the edges where people plant offerings to the whole community who farm there; you might find raspberries, or cutting flowers, or kale ready to harvest and take home.
Some kind of 10-ft glorious amaranth.
I brought home seeds from that community garden, too, of tithonia, in a handkerchief I happened to have in my purse:
These mild days with soft air are a balm to the soul. They always surprise me with their kindness, especially when they turn up between others that are by turn sunless and drizzly, then scorching. For two weeks I’ve had my bedroom and morning room windows wide open to the weather all day and night. A cross breeze rolls over me as I sleep.
Sometimes there’s been a bit of smoke, sometimes heat at midday. At night I often have to burrow under the blankets; I hear the traffic early in the morning, and occasionally the neighbors’ loud voices late at night. But it’s the best way I know to feel alive to the earth. Simply by being open to the weather and the air, I can be In Nature. It’s the most convenient month for that, here where I dwell. September is where it’s easy to feel at home….
But — September is leaving this very week, that change is in the air. I admit to being a little broken-hearted; essentially, I’m being evicted, and that’s harsh. There is nothing for it but to take inspiration from that budding succulent stem above, that will draw on its stored resources, and make the most of whatever sunlight burns through the fog. Those three little pumpkins will likely come in handy, too, because it’s time to start cozying up to October.