Standing over a weed-infested row, nudging along the blade of a hoe, I pause to consider the progress -- my own with the weeds, and also that of the vegetable starts I'm tending. I naively and ambitiously agreed to furnish vegetables for a restaurant dinner later in the summer, but I have so far resisted providing a tentative inventory of what the chef might reasonably expect from our garden. I know what we have planted, and I observe what seems to be thriving. But I'm still a horticultural neophyte. I have yet to evolve that intuitive inner calendar that simply knows when things are due. Moreover, I have so far procrastinated on developing the good and helpful habit of maintaining annual garden notes, which means I don't have the benefit of our prior years' experience beyond simple anecdotal memory; and that doesn't feel like much to bank on. Never strong enough to lean on, my recollections are only getting fuzzier. And while, yes, I can read the seed packets for their statistical predictions and norms, that, too, has its limitations.
Growth, after all, is a mysteriously mercurial thing. The copywriter who added those cultivation notes to the catalog and seed packet -- presumably drawing on rich and deep expertise -- nonetheless doesn't live on our property, doesn't dig in our soil, and may or may not water at the same rate as I do. And even if I had kept growing notes from previous seasons, I have learned the hard way that seasons rarely Xerox themselves for later use. Each one is its own work of art with its own brush strokes and hues. What lagged behind last year may well sprint ahead in this present season. The bugs that haunted last season may be absent altogether this year...or simply late. There are, in other words, variables.
All that, plus the fact that plants are living things with their own strengths and idiosyncrasies. Standing over an adolescent vine prognosticating about its progeny feels about as predictive as speculating on the future career of an 8th grader. Or, for that matter, a 55-year-old. We change, after all. Or flame out. Or catch a different spark. Or... Who knows in advance exactly what will grow? Or when it might mature?
I'm liking the looks of the radicchio, but having never grown it before I have no clear guess about any harvest. The garlic and the wheat are soon to come out, but the cabbages are a long way off. I see blossoms on the squashes and green beans, but whose to say how many and by what date? The braising greens we can count on, but a meal requires more than kale and collards and chard; and there is little hope that the peppers and tomatoes will be there to play a supporting role. Cucumbers? Probably, but we'll see. Even if I'm not quite sure what it will be, something good will show up in the kitchen in ample time to serve.
It's all a work in progress. Just like the rest of us.
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
We are still baffled about its arrival. Driving home from a brief weekend away, our house sitter called with a conundrum. There was a baby chick in our chicken coop. “What,” she wondered, “should she do?”
To those only superficially acquainted with Taproot Garden, let me clarify that while we do have chickens – 30 or so heritage breed hens at any given time, plus one unanticipated rooster we began calling “Sam” after “Samantha” ceased to be appropriate – we have no chicks. I've never been interested in that particular facet of flock keeping; preferring instead to acquire our stock as juveniles who are somewhat further along the arc of growth. A chick in the coop, then, was an anomaly.
The fact remains, however, that we do have that rooster – a presence that comes, shall we say, with alternate potentialities.
We hurried the last few miles home and scurried out to the coop. Sure enough, there was a chick chirping enough to wake the neighbors and bouncing around like a dog toy. Setting aside for a moment our disbelief, we noted that however it had gotten here it seemed to have no access to the available food and water. Scooping it up, we prepared for it a temporary home in a box with some bedding and a lidding screen. A quick trip to the farm store afforded chick food and a waterer suitable for its size. Only then did we give our curiosity full throttle.
Could a fertilized egg have been laid and subsequently hidden for the requisite 21 days and hatched under the care of brooding hens? It hardly seemed possible. I am fastidious in the collection of eggs and tending to the coops. I'm far from perfect, but I think I would have noticed. Alternatively, could someone be playing a prank? Could someone have surreptitiously crept into the chicken yard and deposited this fluffy ball? That seemed even less likely. A gift from outer space? Mork in feathered form?
Disseminated pictures and strategic queries eventually led to the conclusion that the chick was not a chick at all, but a poult—a baby turkey; an explanation lent credibility by our recent sightings of a wild turkey on our property in recent days. However it came to be orphaned, and however it came to make its way inside the coop, the poult at least had an identity and a story.
What it didn't yet have was a way forward. We hadn't wakened that morning – or any other morning to date – with the aspiration to raise a turkey, and even if the idea pricked some hypothetical nerve of appeal we didn't know the first thing about how to go about it. For good or ill, however, we had it and it had us, together entangled in that sticky web of cuteness, circumstantial imperative, and I suppose basic nature. Whatever had caused the mother turkey to abandon her young, it simply isn't in our DNA to do the same. So it was the we found ourselves reading what we could about turkey care, exploring options for food and shelter, saving for college.
I’m kidding about the college. But just barely.
I still don't understand it. We didn't want it; had no interest in such things. But we had it, and had come to care about it. We had hopes for it. And so this morning, a mere two days in to this imposed surrogacy, when we found its lifelessly still little body nestled in the straw we felt somehow bereft. The unclaimed had laid claim on our imaginations, our anticipations and our ever mercurial tendernesses.
We constantly find ourselves reminding each other that we live in the midst of nature, not Disneyland. Real things happen here. Rabbits eat the greens. Squash bugs decimate the harvest. Blight withers the tomatoes. Foxes jump the chicken fences. We have become well enough acquainted with death that I now can gather up a lifeless chicken without weeping and feeling as violated as if a thief had broken in and rummaged through the drawers. But “accustomed” is not the same as apathetic. I can gather up the remains and accomplish the disposition, but every time the fact of it leaves me bruised and somehow diminished.
Did I mention that we hadn't wanted this chirping, fluttering little bundle of fuzz? It's true of course – along with countless other pulses, heartbeats, voices and experiences that we didn't choose but came to change and enrich our lives unalterably for the better.
And so for the privilege of sharing this brief but tender mercy we are grateful.
We'll miss you.