Joy No. 28: Cross your fingers

I’ve been trying to teach the little guy that when he picks a vegetable, he should use one hand to stabilize the plant and one hand to pull the vegetable away from it. Otherwise, when we pull off the vegetable, a good part of the plant might come with it.

Well, guess who was in a hurry today when she went to yank off a ripe tomato? I wound up holding a stem containing three tomatoes: a ripe one, an almost-ripe one and a hard green one. There was a brief, silent pause as the little guy and I separately considered the situation and both realized that I had not been listening to my own words of wisdom.

The little guy suggested we might toss out the green tomato. I told him, “No, we’ll put it on the windowsill, and see if it ripens. Cross your fingers!”

He was quiet. I looked over at him and saw him standing beside me in the garden, head bowed, eyes closed, fingers folded in prayer.

It might ripen ...

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Joy No. 27: A garden first

We had a family garden first this week: We ate our first-ever tomato from a plant we had grown from a seed! That it should have happened this year of all years is a miracle.

The Pacific Northwest is known for its wet, cloudy weather, but this year was something special, and it brought with it innumerable slugs the size of healthy rodents that spent the first two-thirds of the summer marauding our veggie garden, and flower plantings and pots. They chewed up all of our cucumber starts and all but one of our zucchini starts. (An heirloom variety survived … and then, when it flowered, the slugs returned to eat its flowers. Ugh! I transplanted it into a wine barrel and have since eked out a few little zukes from it.)

The little guy and I were rather disheartened and sort of abandoned the tomato plants, which apparently did not interest the slugs. But then, was it the second week in August?, summer came in spades bringing the hot sunny weather that tomatoes love. As I wrote in Joy No. 10, we began enjoying fresh-ripened toms earlier in September. These were from tomato plants we had bought as starts. I kept peeking at the little plants we had grown from seeds, but it seemed there was no way they would grow enough to put out fruit before the frosts of fall.

Sometimes I just love being wrong.

(Confession: These tomatoes and beans are actually from 2010. I’ll try to remember to take a 2011 tomato photo tomorrow.)

Joy No. 17: Unexpected survivor

We didn’t mean to kill her. But after a couple of years of benign neglect, Rosie No. 1 was looking pretty punk last spring. That’s when one of us (I’m not mentioning names, but it wasn’t me) got out the hacksaw or pruning shears or something and whacked off all the non-producing or diseased branches till all that was left was a bulbous lower trunk and a couple of stems growing out of it.

It wasn’t long before another one of us rode a bicycle with training wheels over what remained of the once glorious red-flowering bush that had come with the house and, if memory serves, had been a gift from the previous owner’s grandmother.

The hacksaw-wielder then decided that there was no future to the poor bent thing and proceeded to cut off its floppy stems, placing a flat rock over whatever remains there might have been.

It didn’t take me long to notice that what once had been a good-sized rose bush was gone, and I felt a bit bad about it. We had not served it well, and coming from good rose-growing stock, I had known better.

But I am not a rose person, and I had warned the two Rosies that had come with our house that they were on their own. I only tend things I can eat. And irises. I love irises.

After the second hacksaw episode, we all figured Rosie No. 1 was done for, but I removed the rock anyway in the belief that you just never know.

Today, as the little guy — now training wheel-free — and I bicycled past the spot where Rosie No. 1 used to reign, I happened to notice a tiny something reaching triumphantly toward the sky:

Baby Rose! I was practically giddy to see her there.

No longer just a rose bush, this is a survivor with more optimism than sense. That’s a nice quality. I’ll mulch her this fall and see if we can keep her around.

Joy No. 16: Finding joy in fall

Summer exhaled her last hot breath yesterday, and today we awoke to a refreshing autumn chill that had already settled deep into our tile floor. By this afternoon our back yard was littered with yellow leaves.

We had had six straight days at 90 degrees or above (preceded by two at 89 degrees), a record for this area. It was just enough heat for me to decide that summer had satisfied me and that this year I would take one more step toward giving up my disdain for autumn.

I have been a longtime autumn disdainer — the naked trees and trashy gardens, my association with school’s constraints, the dulling colors and death — but over the past couple of years I have softened my stance. I have begun to appreciate the yellows, oranges and reds of leaves … before they turn brown, the quieting of landscapes, the crunchy sidewalks and appeal of hot apple cider and anything cinnamon.

Today, though, I think I bumped my autumn appreciation efforts up a notch: The little guy requested a stop at the local nursery and an hour later we loaded up the car with winter-hardy broccoli and lettuce starts. Maybe this is less autumn appreciation than trying to transform autumn into spring.

But we also brought home pots of purple coneflower, lemon verbena and spearmint, all of which we will settle into our yard and then watch wither away, perhaps forgetting even to anticipate their vigorous return in the spring.

They might be hope, surprise and joy, all in one.

Joy No. 5: Coyote poo

It’s blackberry season here, which means my son and I spend a lot of time rustling about the perimeter of our property picking berries. My plan for today’s post was to feature a photo that looks something like this:

And although this photo doesn’t reflect it well, I had planned to wax on about how our wild blackberry plants, in their various degrees of bloom, ripening and decay, remind me of Flemish still lifes, those seventeenth-century oil paintings depicting tables laden with fish and berries and peaches and insects in such a deliciously real and almost vulgar manner.

As it happens, our prime berry-picking spots change from year to year, and one of last year’s best spots is overgrown this year, filled with rangy horsetails and devoid of berries altogether. Although it has little to offer us, it appears to have caught the interest of a local coyote. He has designated the base of a tree there as his latrine. (To be honest, we hadn’t been sure who had been pooing all those piles of cherry pits there, but over the weekend my son had the good sense to haul our visiting neighbor, who works for Fish & Wildlife, to the tree and asked him.)

Today, when I brought the camera out to capture some blackberries, my son insisted on taking a photo too. Of what? “Coyote poo!” Here’s his photo:

So what’s my joy today? It isn’t really the coyote poo. It isn’t even the blackberries. Today I find joy in my son’s growing awareness, curiosity and enjoyment of the world around him.

[I’m discontinuing the Joy Meter, effective now. Joy is joy.]