â€¦ grow tomatoes in their home garden, and lots of them. Men who know grow them, too. Because no other fruit, except maybe peaches, translates that high summertide light and syrup-like heat of starry, summer evenings into thrills of flavor like tomatoes do.
Weâ€™ve finally had our first garden-killing frosts. Only the carrots and onions stood their ground. In fact, in the chemistry that occurs between some edibles and fall weather, frosts snapped out the carrotsâ€™ sugars, rendering them tastier. My â€œheirloomâ€ varieties of tomato plants â€“ goners. The last of this yearâ€™s fruits, plucked while green to save them from destruction, sit on the kitchen counter, their strange colors deepening as they strive to fulfill the measure of their creation. By strange colors, I mean yellow-green fruits shot through with dark green stripes â€“ Green Zebras, those are called â€“ and the purplish-red fruits with purple-green shoulders â€“ Cherokee Purples. The yellow Striped Germans that I grow which mottle with red as they ripen â€“ theyâ€™re long gone, diced into fresh salsas and cooked down and frozen for winter storage along with the Brandywines, an Amish variety which just might produce the most wonderful tomatoes growing on the face of the earth. Brandywine tomatoes are my husbandâ€™s favorites. For that reason, and for all the good qualities they bring to the table, I grow more of those plants than any other.
Back in 1994, I planted my first heirloom tomatoes as a gardening adventure. I wasnâ€™t disappointed. Back then, these open pollinating plants could be found nowhere in the vast hybridlands of Utah nurseries. I had to grow mine from seeds. Growing tomato plants from seeds is easy; thereâ€™s nothing special about that. But the results I got from that first season? Wow. The dazzling, bio-diverse beauty of the fruits converted me instantly from standard hybrid fare as well as did their heirloom flavors, each distinct from the other, yet still deeply tomato-y. For me, the tomato-spectrum had blown wide open.
About six years ago, I set out some germinating heirloom tomato seedlings on the porch to bask in the spring warmth. Most of the seedlings had unfolded their seed leaves â€“ those blade-like embryonic leaves that emerge first from the ground, push off the seed cap, and begin photosynthesizing for the seed. As I doted on my green babies, movement caught my eye. Focusing on one of the flats, I saw something that in all my years of growing tomato plants Iâ€™d never seen before: a seedling flapping its seed leaves up and down fast enough that my human eye easily registered the movement.
Before you think Iâ€™d been hitting the trail mix too hard, Iâ€™ve got witnesses. I called my family: â€œYou guys have got to come see this!â€ My husband, son, and daughter all joined me on the porch.
Yes, they could see it: flap, flap, flap, both leaves pumping up and down in synchrony. Kids and husband watched, as mesmerized as I was. No, there wasnâ€™t any wind. Furthermore, all the other seedlings stood quiescent in their growth. As we speculated upon what in the world the seedling was trying to accomplish, we saw that its empty seed hull still attached to one seed leaf, pinching it tightly. Was that waif of a plant, just a thin stalk with two freshly unfolded cotyledons, trying to shake off the offending seed cap? Sure looked like it.
This experience changed how my family thinks about plants. Furthermore, the wonder and joy it brought to us serves as antidote for bad dreams and other kinds of nightmares. One evening, my daughter, then only five years old, walked in on me while I was feeding my clown phobia by watching Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Before I could switch away, she witnessed a ghastly scene that later that night made it impossible for her to go to sleep or even to close her eyes. As she lay by my side, tossing and whimpering, and me feeling guilty and wondering what I could do to lift the discomfort Iâ€™d brought upon her, inspiration stuck. â€œRemember that dancing tomato plant we had last year?â€ I asked. Instantly, the despair lifted and her voice brightened. â€œYeah, that was so cool!â€ she said, and our talk about the tomato plant who danced drove away the evil clowns (“In space, no one can eat ice cream”). To this day, when bad dreams threaten or disappointment lurks, we speak of the tomato plant who danced, and the atmosphere clears like magic.
Women who know know they donâ€™t know much, not compared to what remains to be known, not compared to what God pours forth upon his creation, a cascading glory of striving spirit and unfolding, rising nature. Not compared to the flames of wonder that flicker just outside of our normal range of attention, testifying of more that is and of more to come. A quarter-turn to the right, and you see it â€“ a manifestation of life you might otherwise have missed, such as a bird looking at you with curiosity and interest, a flash of comprehension in your disabled sonâ€™s or daughterâ€™s eyes. All the glints of intelligence with which God endows this earth. All the meaning to life, ripe and ready for harvest.
â€œThou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it. Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers, thou blessest the springing thereof. Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness. They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness: and the little hills rejoice on every side. The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing.â€
Yes â€“ the corn sings and tomato plant dances. Even if it is just because its shoe is too tight.