Enough to give away like poetry,
the garden keeps us near
humble dirt anticipating
the quick fix of accomplishment
flourishing overnight, a short walk
from the kitchen table—a crop
to share with good neighbors—and
the ground squirrels and cottontails,
the bugs, birds and worms
that arrive before the harvest.
It’s never been about the money
saved instead of labor,
nor about feeding nature—but
more about living with
the gift of earth and flesh.
Already we prepare for war, hang
Irish Spring in orchard trees, clear
the battlefield of weeds before
their green turns brown as the latest
batch of baby ground squirrels
watch from the granite outcrops, little
heads peering from our uphill bleachers.
We cheer the appetites of hawks,
eagles and crows, their hungry, noisy
and nested young waiting on a thatch
of twigs, open-mouthed—even
the rattlesnakes these easy swallows.
We clean the .22 and pellet gun.
There is no talk of peace, sagging
hog-wire a poor border to defend,
to hold when we’re away at work
to satisfy the costs of living where
we will always be the intruders.
Fresh-picked fruit waiting for family, friends and rain to arrive. 1.30″
It’s hard to like summer in the San Joaquin, but my friend Barry Iden suggested that the only good thing about it are the tomatoes, alluding to the fruit and vegetables from our gardens. But full-time jobs when I think about the man, and mostly woman-hours, spent to germinate, plant, irrigate, weed, thin and pick the assorted crops, when I think about the ground squirrels that denuded our apple and pear trees last year, the raccoon families feasting at night and the risk of rattlesnakes lounging in the garden’s damp lushness. If time and money were the only considerations, it might be more economic to shop in town. But last night’s sliced, vine ripe tomatoes with salt, pepper and volunteer basil are not available just anywhere.
With more than half of June thus far over 100° and less than a week away from Summer Solstice, we’re in production: raspberries, strawberries, early peaches and apricots, we’ve fed the neighbors who in turn bring part of their own harvests. And that too, the exchange of produce that brings us together, a throwback to the old ways that makes summer in the San Joaquin more than bearable, but enjoyable.
Last of our crop of weaned steer calves head to town this morning.
It’s been a busy week with perfect weather. Robbin, Terri and I have worked the garden up and planted several varieties of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash and eggplants amid the volunteer Golden Poppies,
while Joe Hertz, stonemason and fiddle player for Cowboy Celtic,
has been enclosing Robbin’s pool with river rock. Half-day today,
then barbecue and play music.
We’re managing to keep up with garden production. Robbin has made several batches of pickles, some delicious dill, but mostly bread and butter pickles utilizing our new striped Armenians as well as our standard Armenians that are quite crunchy and striking in the same jar.
She also adds some red onions to her pickles as we thin our new onion/raspberry bed.
We are evolving to more container gardening, utilizing our many Rubbermaid water troughs that used to be guaranteed for life, but after three years the company reneged realizing that the plastic material couldn’t withstand the expansion and contraction with our weather nor the pressure of the cattle at water. They all leak.
Our old protein supplement tubs for the cattle make good containers as well.
It’s all about controlling the weeds. With weed cloth deteriorating in the sun, Robbin has tried to salvage a little more life out of it with a covering of decorative bark.
And then the peppers that we barbecue with almost everything, but especially compliment a piece of beef.
Indeed it is a lot of work, very little of which can I take credit.
You could hear them
from the squash and cucumbers,
from the tomatoes where the rattler
stretched upon damp dirt to cool his belly,
in that no man’s land of prickly pear
and grape canes claiming shade trees
on the periphery of ripening vegetables—
their incessant tittering within: military
training before their first tour of the garden
scouted at the peak of heat days before,
our lawn of weeds this side of roadrunners
nesting in the cottonwood under
the surveillance of a pair of crows.
The only green for miles of hard
baked clay and blond dry fuzz,
a microcosm of good wet years,
the wild moves in, gathers to include
us—horses, dogs and feral cats—
into a sustainable family.
Tree frogs on the move, hopping
sojourns at dusk and dawn bring
the King snake tracking Garter snakes
that ignore us, stay out from underfoot.
We have no choice but to share
our little space and water in a drought.
We will count the covey into the future,
measure training into evenings, watch
for Bobcats and Coopers Hawks on patrol.
No place for soft hearts, politics,
or too much attention—no one wants
or can afford to run for election.
The wild of Japan
bloom with ranch vegetables
under a gray sky.
April in May
busy with cattle,
calves and auction yards—
visiting with solid souls
beneath faces worn outdoors
that follow the stuttering
monotone of auctioneers,
for bulls too late to brand
in March to sell,
the garden blooms
peppers and squash,
tendrils of cucumbers
reach for support,
eggplants open arms
as the tomatoes wait
for heat to color
hard green globes.
Eight hundred pounds
without the red iron,
rope or vaccinations—
growing without me.