Fridays with Damaris: My Vegetable Love

DeCamp Organic Farm in the Garden. Photo by David Cornwell

My Vegetable Love
By Damaris Zehner

Although I’m sometimes reluctant to go out and work in the garden – I don’t want to get dirty, it’s hot and humid, there’s an overwhelming amount to do – I am always astonishingly happy when I do.  I begin by pulling weeds or hoeing with mechanical efficiency; soon I settle into a more meditative rhythm, no less efficient but hypnotic and easy.  Like a Shaker or a Sufi spinning into peace, I work my way down the rows and across the raised beds while my mind settles down and my body relaxes.  The smell and feel of dirt is so delightful that I pause and lay my hands on it and in it, hot from the sun or cool in the early morning.  Ants and worms work their way through the brown mountains and valleys around my hands.  I sometimes disturb them, but they don’t seem to mind and soon return to their work.

That was not the case with the bumble bees whose nest I forked up last spring.  At first the nest looked like a clot of dead leaves and grass, but it emitted an ominous humming.  My feline assistant and I bent over the clot; I noticed that it seemed to be held together by some kind of silk.  The cat prodded it lightly with his paw, and the humming swelled.  A big bumble bee burst out and flew up toward the cat.  Five or six others followed, some large, some small, but all intent on defending themselves.  The cat and I decided that it was about lunchtime and trotted with desperate dignity back to the house, twitching and flailing as we went, until the bees gave up and returned to the garden.  I didn’t finish that bed for several days.

Once the beds and rows are planted, I sit in the dirt and weed.  Although I could never tell you in February what parsley, basil, or marigold seedlings look like, I recognize them as soon as they’re up, old friends reminding me of how close we used to be.  Sometimes only weeds come up for days and days, and I get worried.  What’s happened?  Will my seedlings ever arrive?  Have I done something to discourage them?  When enough rain falls and sun shines and they finally do, I feel disproportionate relief.  I confess I talk to them, especially to apologize to them for the cat’s unconventional gardening methods.  There usually comes a point when his contribution is not as helpful as he thinks it is.  If he’ll sit across my shoulders, he can stay; otherwise, I take him inside and let him relax on the sofa until I’m done.

Every change that I observe as the season advances gets reported at dinner.  “There are three flowers on the biggest tomato plant,” or “The gooseberries are just about ripe.”  Mealtimes are probably tedious for the non-gardeners because I always report what food is ours.  “These are still last year’s potatoes and onions, the herbs are the ones I dried last summer although the chives and sage are fresh, and all the salad greens are from our beds.”  It’s a mark of some pride when I’ve grown everything except the meat; even then, I buy it from a local butcher who got it from my neighbors.

Because I garden, our family’s prayer at dinner time seems always to be about rain and sun, soil fertility, and the time and ability to work.  These are the things I’m concerned about and grateful for.  I am aware of my reliance on my own land and the many acres worked by others that keep me alive.

Because I garden, I take my time cooking.  I have to pick, sort, clean, dry, peel, chop, husk, etc., everything I use.  I have to plan my meals to incorporate what’s growing now.  It takes time, but then I don’t have to shop as much.  And I can bore my family with the daily litany of where everything came from.

Because I garden, I have the deep aesthetic and practical delight of jars on my basement shelf.  Green, yellow, red, orange, purple – such beautiful colors.  They are worth the hours of sweat and sore feet involved in canning them.  Their rich hues hint at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, at winter meals that still taste of summer.

I don’t want to idealize.  In addition to the first of the jars I’m now arranging on the basement shelves, I have a creepy forest of foot-high sprouts taking over a dark corner where the last of the potatoes were neglected.  I will go outside in a minute and have to be careful not to inhale gnats.  Sometimes I’ll breathe one in and cough in disgust for half an hour afterward.  I get frustrated when I have to squish potato bugs instead of doing the sorts of garden chores that Victorian ladies could perform in white dresses and extravagant hats.  Not every plant does well, and some do so well they get wasted.  The goats get out and eat the tops off the corn.  The dogs barrel through rows and beds with canine abandon, and the cats curl up on the crushed plants.  The weather doesn’t cooperate, nor do relatives, employers, and other people with demands on my time.  But as I sit in the dirt, smelling the thyme and tomatoes and basil, hearing the bumble bees in the oregano flowers, I am humbled and grateful to be a witness to the power of life.

• • •

Photo by David Cornwell at Flickr.

18 thoughts on “Fridays with Damaris: My Vegetable Love

  1. I can hear it! 🙂

    Actually, the title comes from “To His Coy Mistress,” by Andrew Marvell, which may have beat out Yeats’ “Second Coming” as the source of the most titles and references. There’s this article, a short story by Ursula LeGuin called “Vaster than Empires” (which completes the vegetable love line), a book by Peter S. Beagle called “A Fine and Private Place,” “The Conversion of the Jews” by Philip Roth, and Archibald Macleish’s “You, Andrew Marvell” — just to name the ones off the top of my head!


  2. Yes, onions are wonderful. I still have a few good ones from last year, but I have four big beds coming up thick and green now. Soon we’ll be grilling and sauteing.


  3. —> “My Vegetable Love.”

    Makes me think that there’s good song pardoy in here somewhere, using Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” as the melody.

    I’ve been diggin’ all day, my hand’s wet in the dirt
    There’s some mud on my head and more on my shirt
    My garden’s callin’, says I need you here
    And it’s a half past four and I’m comin’ near
    When she is lonely and the longing gets too much
    She sends a cable comin’ in from above
    Don’t need no phone at all
    We’ve got a thing that’s called vegetable love
    We’ve got a wave in the air, vegetable love
    While the radio plays some forgotten song
    The manure scent’s comin’ on strong


  4. Did I mention February? It’s our coldest month here, too, although not as cold as where you are.


  5. February? February we are still at -20°C, with snow on the ground. Our traditional vegetable planting is actually this weekend – Victoria Day Long weekend.

    But when the growing season is short, the pace of plant life is a headlong rush. It is exhilarating.


  6. Just curious, Damaris, what plant hardiness zone do you live in? It would help give a better idea of what your annual garden rhythm entails.


  7. Thank you, Lisa. My garden is getting smaller these days, as the girls grow up and leave home; I’m also scheduled for shoulder surgery next month and won’t be able to tend it very well. Still, I can’t imagine not having one!

    It’s good to hear from you again.


  8. Damaris, this is so lovely! My garden is not so large, not so well tended and doesn’t come anywhere close to providing the bulk of our meals, but you have captured the allure of what makes us want to labor in a garden. I especially like these lines … “I begin by pulling weeds or hoeing with mechanical efficiency; soon I settle into a more meditative rhythm, no less efficient but hypnotic and easy. Like a Shaker or a Sufi spinning into peace, I work my way down the rows and across the raised beds while my mind settles down and my body relaxes.” Yes!


  9. The new litter of kittens from mamma drop off cat. Finally found and being worked with in a hope they will find a home every night after very long and now hot days. Little fearful blue eyes staring at almost 300 pounds who tries to say to them in a soft voice it’s okay I don’t eat kittens. I find myself praying again after quite a drought. Fearful is understood again but in a different light strangely familiar.


  10. Hi DAMARIS

    first of all, THANK YOU for this

    I could never understand the mystery of how it was that my father who worked sixteen hours a day could still go out and work in the garden when he was at home. Reading your post, I think I am beginning to better understand. 🙂


  11. Beautiful!

    Very soon the farmer’s market will return and there will be Onions that haven’t spent weeks riding about in rail cars and shipping containers!

    I love Onions, I am a confessed Onion snob. Mid-January through mid-May the pickings are sadness making. Even in the hippest neighborhoods; and, goodness me, the sodden wads they sell at the big-box grocers – shudder inducing.

    But soon – shiny, firm, delicious onions, still dirty from the fields, by the basket, cheap. YES!
    There will be a celebration with onions on the grill, cold beer, maybe a little flank steak.


  12. Just a bit more

    How can I express
    joy when Christ invades my life?
    I bow to His Love


  13. AUTUMN

    the apples are picked
    red parrots feast on grass seeds
    God’s in His Heaven

    I did not vanish
    held quietly in Christ’s Love
    warm peace to refresh


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