June 4, 2011
The garden is in. Over the last month or so, I slipped in and out of the backyard in between copious rains and temperature changes that ranged from too hot to too cold to turn over the soil, add amendments and, finally, plant the seeds, transplants (and chunks of sprouting potatoes in my potato trash can) for this year’s garden. Even though at the end of May, we suddenly skipped the entire month of June and went straight to July type temperatures in the nineties, the garden is growing nicely – except for the tomatoes.
It’s not that they hadn’t done well, though the transplants were smaller than usual, but they tempted the palate of some rogue rodent that ate the entire tops of all six of my tomato plants, one of my two jalapenos and tried – unsuccessfully, thank goodness – to eat my one green pepper plant all in one or two nights.
In my sorrow, conspiracy theories abounded. A giant gopher roaming the garden for floral prey under cover of night; yet, there were no telltale holes dotting the area. Vindictive squirrels, angry that the cats have laid claim to the salad garden on the side porch; but the cats also lay claim to the backyard garden where they lurk under the growing asparagus fronds looking for night bugs to nibble on. The rascally rabbit living in the brush pile that is slowly turning to compost by the back alley; perhaps he thought he would play a joke on the dog, which chases it at every turn, but never catches it.
Sorrow over the loss of my tomatoes turned to anger, with dark thoughts of fried squirrel smothered in gravy and dumplings or rabbit, stewed with carrots, potatoes and onions.
At last, anger turned to acceptance. I took the two spindly cherry tomato transplants that I hadn’t yet had the heart to throw into the compost pile and stuck them in one of the earth boxes on the side porch. One lived; one died. And if the live one continues to do well, I’ll train it up one side of the old green trellis that hold the peas in the other earth box and be grateful. Then, I went to the nursery and bought two heritage Brandywines of a goodly size that I planted out in the backyard garden this very morning. If they do well, I’ll add their seeds to my growing collection for starts next February and, again, be grateful.
I tell you this little tale of woe not to garner sympathy, but to make a larger point. Stuff happens. As the climate continues to destabilize, high-energy crude oil production diminishes and the world economy once again dances at the edge of disaster, more and worse stuff will happen. If I can’t cope with the loss of six tomato plants without retreating into conspiracy theories and thoughts of revenge, how will I cope with a tornado or ice storm taking out my home as the climate changes or the loss of my social security income if the financial sector collapses or the government unhinges.
Life is unpredictable, in ways both tiny and towering – many of those ways of our own making as we stumble on in pursuit of Business As Usual. Ask the people struggling with the effects of any of the myriad disasters – natural and manmade – over the last five years. We used to understand this in ways that we’ve forgotten. Now, in our we-can-rule-nature pursuit of BAU, farmers have forgotten to weigh the risks against the rewards of planting in flood plains – made riskier in new ways by the dams and levees we have added, mostly without understanding what we’re doing, in hopes of increasing our profits from the earth. People used to understand the dangers of building homes, businesses, and risky projects like nuclear power plants along earthquake faults and in the paths of tsunamis. We see the dangers of forgetting that lesson. All the great religions had prohibitions against usury and risk taking with other people’s money. At one time, banks understood this. Not so, any longer. In pursuit of convenience, we have set up an oil-dependent, worldwide system of banking based on compound interest and risk taking and a just-in-time delivery system of goods at a time when we were warned for forty years, that oil production would peak and diminish in the foreseeable future. We have stepped outside the wisdoms our ancestors garnered by living within nature and nature-based systems over millenia and we must find ways, not to go back – it’s fast becoming to late for that – but to go forward in the changing environments we’ve brought about with our hubris to find a new body of within-nature wisdom.
I suppose I could have armed myself with poisons and traps and set forth to do battle with whatever I blamed for my loss. But the truth is, I lost six tomato plants because I forgot the first lesson of gardening in this area, that my garden is subject to the appetites of the small creatures with which I share this lot. It’s a small price to pay for the reminder that they feel as much entitled to what grows in this soil as I do. To save money last fall, I skimped on peat pots that were too small and, as a result, the transplants were smaller than normal – in fact, just about rabbit or squirrel size when I finally got them into the ground. A small, relatively uncostly lesson learned, but it is a metaphor for the larger lessons we are about to undergo.
Our own carelessness and hubris – individually and collectively – brought us to this point. I don’t believe there is some vast secret conspiracy against us by government, finance or nature, any more than there was a conspiracy against my tomatoes plants by whatever ate them. We’ve simply forgotten our place – who, what and where we are. In the coming days, months and years, we’ll have to find it again – individually and collectively. Nature, like the critters that ate my tomatoes, will simply move on with or without us, if we don’t.