On the last day of summer, the local NYC farmers market was a feast for my senses. I was out for a walk and didn’t bring my wallet, so I could look, smell, touch, but not buy the beautiful produce of bountiful summer harvests. I did bring my phone and took photos. The trip brought back waves of memories of a time when I was the gardner. I was a little girl with a lot of free time.
I was the one who loved our garden behind our pond the most, I imagine. I loved digging in the soil, planting the seeds, even weeding around the growing vegetables. Sometimes I picked up a garden snake or ate a worm to gross out my Mom. She pretty much left me alone out there.
Most of all I loved sitting in the sun watching the plants grow. People didn’t believe me that I could see it. And it seems impossible, but on certain summer days you could also almost hear them growing. Summer squash came early and was a favorite of mine, although all my friends only knew zuchini from the store as the summer squash. The yellow kind of summer squash is a bit sweeter with a firmer skin. It takes a lot of water and I carried countless buckets of pond water up to the plants on hot dry days. I had to be very careful not to touch any tiny squash as it was growing; that can leave a mark or scar on the surface of the squash which is as sensitive and delicate when it’s in the growing phase as a piece of white silk.
Peppers pretty much took care of themselves without any help from me, growing next to our row of cucumbers. They both just needed a lot of sun to produce their brilliant colors. The garden peppers were never the plump juicy type but always very thin skinned and very strongly flavored. I do not know, and used to wonder how store peppers get so fat.
One summer I took our most perfect vegetables down to the road side and sold them to strangers who visited the resort on the hill beyond our valley. At my first sale of cucumbers to two women, I raced to the house yelling to my Mom, “I made a dollar!” She quickly instructed me that we 1) didn’t talk about money 2) didn’t yell and 3) didn’t put on a show for the tourists. The pair of ladies did stop by again trying to repeat the spectacle but were dissappointed as I only quietly said, “Thank you.”
Cornsilk was a soft and beautiful part of the corn plant that matured at the end of the summer, but sparce in our garden with only two rows at one end. Corn silks carry the tassel’s pollen down their whole length to the egg below to make each new sweet kernel. The scent of the corn husks ripped back by customers at the market reminded me of harvest days when I was in graduate school at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory studying corn genetics. I developed an allergy to the corn pollen there, tending to fields of hundreds of plants for a couple of seasons, but still, I love the sweet smell of corn.
Onions were easy to forget about as they grew underground with only a slender few leaves above ground. It wasn’t until fall that I could see their beautiful bulbs when I dug them up and dried them a bit before storing them for later. They smell dusty and remind me of the cellar of our house. I remember I had to be careful to keep them in a dry place so that the onions didn’t mold, and you can see that a little in one of the onions in the picture from today’s farmers market as a dark powder. It’s a part of the cycle of birth, growth, and decay that I loved to watch each summer.
All these colors and scents reminded me of so many childhood days spent in the garden, and the happpiness of summers off, at a time when I was much too young to work. Every effort there was a pleasure. In the garden, the beauty of the earth was fully manifest and I never felt alone.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” – Rachel Carson