Food Fables and the Fortunate Farmer
Cultivation is more than sinking your hands or spade into the dirt to make room for things yet sprung from their hard casings. When I go to the garden I am not just pulling weeds, lying irrigation lines, and planting seeds. This is not a matter of completing a “job” because that implies (as jobs often do) that it is an obligation to complete, almost a burden to do. On the contrary I am not completing a job I am tending the land, I am working the earth, I am communing so to speak. I have often heard that there is nothing more satisfying than working with plants and growing your own food. This, I have found in my month stay thus far, is completely true. You get into the feel of things and you become engrossed in your work. The movement of my arms as I sink a tool into the dirt and turn the earth, the muscles flexing and the rhythm of sink, lift, and turn hypnotize me. I become only the movement and the breath. I lose myself for a little while. But every once in a while I will
stop, leaning on the tool of my current chosen trade and look out beyond the terrace I stand on. I bring myself back to the here and now.
Have you seen the rolling mountains blanketed in emerald and jade? Have you seen the enormous expanse of sky that seems to go on into infinity, dotted with racing clouds? Have you felt that cool breeze come along and startle you by lifting your hair away from your face? Times like this that make me stop and cause my mind to go blank in awe. There will never be a moment, I think, that I will get used to the sheer beauty of this place. I am captivated, enthralled, by the sight of it and by the feel of it. To be in enthralled is to be a thrall to something; a thrall is like a slave only in the respect to surrender. When you are in enthralled you are not enslaved but you surrender undoubtedly to that which possesses you.
Lately I have been doing more than working the earth and clearing the land. I have been sowing. It is so simple to plant a seed but the labor
that leads up to that moment is so much more. Your sweat and breath go into the planting of that seed and you feel responsible for its growth and its care. I find myself looking over the rows that I sowed and waiting for youthful green shoots to appear. After my effort of preparing the land is finished and after I have laid a seed and buried it in the earth it is no longer up to me what happens. Everything is out of my hands at this point and I have only to wait for a few days to see results. Knowing what I have put into the land I can only feel pride and joy at what I will be given. The phrase “fruits of labor” never meant more than it does at the moments when I pull something out of the soil and it goes straight onto the table for lunch or dinner.
We almost have the top terrace entirely planted. There are leeks, strawberries, radishes, carrots, potatoes, chard, coriander, yellow and purple string beans, zucchini, a round spiky squash, pumpkins, and romaine lettuce. There are still two rows to sow, there is still room left
Water from the source.
for so much more. Beyond the garden stand the raspberry bushes and the old pear trees followed by black currents, rhubarb, a cherry tree, and a fig tree. In the green house at the end of the garden we have several types of lettuces and seedlings waiting to be transplanted.
The second terrace below is waiting to be worked. The field has rested and now it is time to turn the soil, dig out the deep roots of weeds and plant row upon row of tomatoes, potatoes and onions. Of all the things we are growing I am looking forward to the tomatoes the most. I am told that we have yellow, black, green, red, pink, and the giant couer du bouef tomatoes which are ribbed and oddly shaped. What colors, what variety, what abundance in one plant! It is hard to imagine that at one point people believed that tomatoes were poisonous. They were a new world crop like maize (corn), squashes and potatoes. In Shakespeare’s day the groundlings (they were the people who could only afford to stand at the front of the stage in the theatre) would throw tomatoes at actors they thought preformed poorly. The
key was to get the tomato as close to the actors mouth as possible so that you could poison them! A wonder that this remarkable fruit was once used as a weapon to plague poor actors! Then again I would not mind throwing something poisonous at poor actors on occasion.
Although the tomato is actually in the same family as Bitter Nightshade, one plant I have always been fascinated by. Nightshade though, is actually poisonous. Perhaps this has something to do with the notion that the tomato was dangerous. But then again beautiful fruit of suspicious origins have been great catalysts for change throughout history, culture and mythology. Persephone would never have become the queen of the underworld were it not for the pomegranate. Eve would never have had her mind liberated (and consequently banned from Eden) had she not eaten the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.
Food for thought: where does your food come from and what is its story?
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