Thursday, August 12, 2010

From inns of molten blue

In searching for food, the colours of fruits are helpful clues, and, unlike the carnivores, primates have evolved good colour vision. Their eyes are also better at picking out static details. Their food is static, and detecting minute movements is less vital than recognizing subtle differences in shape and texture….The sense of taste is more refined. The diet is more varied and highly flavoured—there is more to taste. In particular there is a strong response to sweet tasting objects.

I remember the preceding passage from The Naked Ape, by Desmond Morris, at least once every August in the garden. Morris’s words usually come to me when I am deep inside an overgrown tomato bush, mosquito-bitten and vine-smeared, stained fingers straining for a ripe fruit. Sometimes I think of them while eyeing the confusion of leaves under which cucumbers or zucchini take refuge; mostly, though, I associate them with tomatoes.

We harvested 46 pounds of tomatoes on Saturday, August 7. We also picked beets, cucumbers (including one that had escaped notice until it was the size of an arm), collards, and kale; a sheaf of chives; and Platonic ideals of carrots that were as wide as a wrist. The stars of the day, though, were the tomatoes: Purple Calabashes that gripped their vines like fragile fists; meaty Purple Cherokees that threatened to split or fall to messy deaths; golden and heart-shaped Dad’s Sunsets; delicate, egg-like Thai Pinks.

There were many varieties of cherry tomatoes, too. A dawn-warmed cherry tomato, pulled from its vine and popped straight into the mouth, contains a liquor never brewed: an elixir of summer, the distillate of picnics and fireflies and feigned deafness to your mother’s calls to come in for the evening.

We packed everything into the bike cart. As the bike cart and its owner creaked and groaned under the load on the way to the pantry, the other volunteers turned to needed garden maintenance.

Karen watered; Michael and Jamie removed cucumber and squash leaves that had succumbed to powdery mildew, and Dave sprayed the remaining healthy leaves with a mild solution of baking soda and liquid soap. Annie and the Schearing sisters weeded out front. We cleared the flower beds of Queen Anne’s Lace and built a section of decking from wood salvaged from a condo porch project. Afterwards, a few of us sat around scratching our welts and discussing geodesy and Thomas Pynchon.

Except for the mosquitoes, it was a perfect gardening day.