The rainy fringes of the big loose jellyfish of a storm that was Danny descended on the Springs yesterday. It hadn't rained since August began, so the soaking felt welcome, exactly the right kind of rain for the garden: steady, not too driving, going on for hours. (And what does that sound like? Well, you can't talk about gardens without talking about sex, although the rather starched tone of gardening books on the whole would seem to suggest the opposite. Sex, death, time and regeneration are the gardener's great subjects. Also food.)
That last word has me thinking about this difficult summer, and the strapped circumstances of our CSA, Quail Hill Farm. June and July were very cool and wet, and then the heat burst out. If those climactic stresses weren't enough, the deer fence around the hill where many crops are grown -- a double row of stretched white string, following the theory that deer don't like double barriers that prevent clear jumping, and will work to avoid them -- failed. They made a feast. But the saddest of all was the blight, the virus that seems to have taken most of the tomatoes on the East Coast this season.
The vines looked incredible at first, sprawling and heavy with fruit, with a haze of that pungent green tomato-vine smell around them that seems just indescribable; it smells like nothing else. And then came the blight, the stems turning to mush, the fruit tumbling in a heap to the ground, and the ones that weren't already rotten at the bottom didn't have the lush, complex flavor of high summer tomatoes; they were more tentative, not full-bodied, disappointing.
A sadness, the rows of collapsed plants, the treasure all decaying at their feet. They seem to stand for the failures of human aspirations. All that tending, nurture of the seed, water, sun, cultivation, intention, vision of harvest. Heap of ruin. Of course every garden has failure in it (another thing to add to the list of the gardener's themes above), but in my garden failure doesn't loom so large. Some chard destroyed by voles, a mallow turned to ethereal skeleton by beetles: small disasters. At the farm, you can't just cover up the spot or turn away from the rows of voided hopes.
So I am working on remembering that it's a good thing to be face to face with this, the risk that growing anything is. It comes with the deal, part of the contract with earth. And though you might go buy tomatoes grown someplace else, or chemically protected from the blight, that doesn't erase the fact that, on the local level where we all live, ruin abides, waiting to happen. It's strange to think this is the same virus that drove my ancestors out of County Cork, in the 1850s; I'm not sure if my great grandmother Nancy O'Cochran was born here or in Ireland, but I know that she rode in the back of a covered wagon from Georgia to Tennessee, when her parents heard that General Sherman had turned around, and was marching back from the sea, and now they'd have to hide from that terror all over again. They turned their back on one kind of blight, and of course later they'd face others in the millet fields they'd cultivate in their new home.
Meanwhile, here in the East End, there are beets with beautiful concentric spirals inside, squash, peppers and cabbage, big-headed sunflowers from the field on Town Lane, every sort of herb, and garlic with a fierce, untamed, nearly metallic tang.