Russian mammoth sunflower, now 10 feet tall. Feeding ground for bees, shade for squash, and natural fence between neighbors.
Naked tomatoes, waiting to be processed. I helped out my friends at Big Fork Organics and they were kind enough to give me tomatoes. I’m in the middle of turning them into salsa, using the Blue Book of Preserving‘s Zesty Salsa recipe. I’ll post the recipe and finished results if it works out.
I’ve been thinking about beginnings today, perhaps because I find myself at an ending, and consequently a beginning, although I’m not sure just what this beginning may be.
In one of my raised beds, an errant acorn has sprouted, and a miniature oak tree with four leaves now competes with my overzealous zucchini for the not-quite-south-but-close-enough light of the first half of the day. For nearly a week, I have been staring at this small tree as I water my garden, debating whether to snuff out this beginning, or give it a chance to grow. The acorn had no choice in where it landed, and perhaps feels lucky to be in such rich soil. Now, it is simply doing its best to grow into a grand old tree.
On the other end of the raised bed, a ridged leaf, stippled with yellow spots has grown palm-sized in the heat and the simmer of July. I know this leaf well- it is a Moon and Stars watermelon, and comes from the seeds I saved from last year, which were spread out on a cookie sheet after being separated from their sweet pink home, dried, and placed in a pint jar in hopes of a new beginning this year. And now, in one corner, are two Moon and Stars watermelon plants, just past the sprout phase, having grown leaves that are true to their spotted nature.
Their beginning is a special one to me, perhaps because my name has such a strong connection to the sky, and the stars, and the heavens. I see myself in my Moon and Stars watermelon, and I cheer as leaves grow. It will soon reach the top of the cedar plank, which walls in its footing of soil ,and will grow up and over and down to the grassy green of the remaining patch of front lawn, spreading tendrils, grabbing hold of leaves, blades of grass, and errant trowels as it grows. This beginning holds promise, and hopes of bountiful reward.
Some beginnings are grand and then fizzle. Last year, I had a pie pumpkin that looked, at the outset, to have a bright future. It was well-shaped, had a strong stem, and was in a place guaranteed to receive sun. And yet, this pumpkin was stunted, and was, as my five-year-old sage of a neighbor described, “so small it would only make one piece of pie.” There was no event that caused the beginning of this pumpkin to also be its end, but it did indeed prove to be insufficient for pie, and met its fate under the blade of a very small knife when it was turned into a very, very small jack o’lantern.
And sometimes our beginnings are small and our results are splendiferous. Last summer, I planted hundreds of sunflower seeds, staggered in height and petal, with images of rows of bobbing sunflowers greeting me in the morning. I was inspired by memories of mule-eared sunflower escorts on the highways and dirt roads of New Mexico, and of the front yard full of sunflowers that I passed on my way to pre-dawn muffin-making in Arizona.
Out of hundreds of sunflower seeds, I had only one sprout. It took hold in a nook of our urbanite wall- a space abandoned by the mullein and sedums of this cement and dirt neighborhood. At first, I paid little attention to this sprout. But after several weeks, the sunflower beckoned for my attention and proved that out of a humble beginning, something wondrous can appear. At the end of the summer, the sunflower stalk was as thick as my wrist and as scratchy as a cat’s tongue. The head was so heavy with seeds that it stood watch over the neighborhood with a tucked chin. Small boys stopped to measure their height against the towering behemoth, and once dried, it filled a quart jar nearly full of seeds. My mighty sunflower spurred conversations six months after it became fodder for compost and will stand in my mind as the triumph of my first-year garden.
This summer, I have five such beginnings spread throughout the boundaries of my yard. I am hoping for greatness, which each of the Mammoth Russian seeds has promised, but am also accepting of the perils of slugs, weed-spurning and herbicide-applying neighbors, and other such uncontrollable tragedies.
Today I have been thinking about beginnings. Mine. My garden’s. And my next step. There is no way to know if this beginning will result in a towering sunflower or a dwarf pumpkin. But I will care and tend to either with the same vigilance, hope, and care I apply to my watermelon’s spots, my pumpkin’s vines, and the small green leaves of a misplaced yet lovely oak tree.
June in Portland is a month where eyes gaze up at the sky, shoes turn to sandals, and books left on lawns are ruined by yet another storm rolling over the Tualatin Mountains.
There is a sense of pleading in everyone’s eyes. Please let this be the day that the rain stops. Please let it be sunny so that my tomato plants turn from a soggy yellow to the green that produces red. Please let the weather be fair for my bike ride.
And yet, the clouds march on, and a sunny nap turns cold and blustery. The clouds come ominously, piling up like a creek behind a newly felled tree, before they topple over the mountains, spread over the sky, and, bit by bit, rain and drizzle and drip.
The feeling of waiting- waiting for the sun, waiting for the rain to stop, waiting for the summer is much like the feeling just before one dives headfirst into new opportunities or heads out on an unknown path. It is the catch in one’s throat, the fingers that cross unconsciously to ward off the unexpected or the upsetting, and the louder voice designed to push fear to a deeper region of one’s heart.
That moment of change, whether it is to a new home, a new career, the dismissal of a harmful habit, or the release of emotions that have lingered for too long, can leave one feeling as though she is floating down a river on an unsteady raft. Too much movement in any direction may cause it to flip, and any movement is guaranteed to submerge one’s toes.
Thus, one must develop the ability to balance nimbly in the center of the raft, with graceful movements and slow steady breaths. Taking care not to introduce shifts that could cause imbalance, leaving one paralyzed with the effort of being motionless. Or, one may choose to plunge into the river, point feet downstream, and deal with what lies ahead by steering around rocks and gauging the strength of the rapids.
The choice to submerge one’s self in the change, the struggle, and the emotions that are waiting is a brave and bold choice. It is glaring, like a bright light left on in the kitchen when one stumbles in at midnight for a glass of water. It can’t be ignored, but eyes adjust and it proves in the long run to be helpful in the quest for a glass and for the faucet.
June in Portland is the change that must be faced head on. When the sun shines, one must take advantage. Lose the raincoat, place bare feet on damp green grass, and pedal the bicycle to river or to the forest. And the rain will come. And the temperature will be colder than one hoped. But the joy of the moments of sun will steel the soul for the gray and the cold that continue to come, uninvited and at inopportune times. Jump into the sunny days, and keep swimming on the rainy ones. For one will miss the rain come August, when the grass is brown, the attic bedroom is hot and airless, and shade is sought on a porch or under a tree.
The moment of limbo just before the change can feel perilous or exhilarating. By taking advantage of the good and acknowledging the bad, and by keeping that bright light on in that midnight kitchen, instead of turning it off and returning to the safety of the dark, one heads towards change intentionally and purposefully, instead of by happenstance.