the garden

>> April 20, 2010

It wasn’t anything to look at, really. Just an ugly patch of land next to an empty cow pasture, scattered with scruffy weeds and a few dead tomato plants from last year. Scraggly, leafless branches from a peach tree pretended to stand guard on one side. There was a reason the house stood with its windowless wall toward the hard, lifeless ground. 
Slowly, almost imperceptibly as the days passed, the cold began to melt into the warmth of early spring.

One day the gardener came to tear away the old dead plants and turn the soil. With sharp, painful strokes, his till slashed through the hard surface, grinding the weeds and leaving the flesh of the earth exposed and vulnerable. The children came and sunk their bare feet into its rich, soft warmth.

Before the weeds had a chance to reclaim their forbidden ground, the shovel began his work of forming the pliant surface into hills and valleys and furrows in preparation for the unseen plants that would someday take root.

The shovel gouged pits then tossed in the black, foul-smelling steer dung. Back and forth, in and out, up and down it went in that lifeless ground, always with a vision of what would be.

At long last the first little green tomato plants were put in place. They hardly looked like anything worth getting excited about, dwarfed as they were in the midst of their small craters, and the great expanse of brown stretching out around them. By sundown their little leaves looked sadly down at the ground, seemingly overwhelmed by the job ahead of them.

Small packets of seeds were brought. There were little wedged sunflower, squash, and cucumber seeds, round peas and okra, flat peppers and eggplants, none of them much bigger than the tip of your finger. There were seeds so small a light breeze could have carried them far and away, never to be seen again. All were dry as bones, some hard as little stones. They disappeared into the deathly darkness of the earth with only a whispered hope of return. And there they lay.

And as they lay invisible, I waited. I waited and wondered what, if anything, was happening. Were their dry little hearts being stirred to, or were they lost forever? Was a teeny sprout forming, even now, drawing strength and life from the drop of rich food in the seed?

Each day, the water soaked the unbroken surface, calling through its liquid voice for life to come forth. Day after day only the silent brown face looked up into the sky. The little tomatoes and other seedlings began to gain a little strength, but the seeds seemed lost.

After seven days, wonder of wonders, a tiny bit of green showing through the brown! Then two more, then three, and the first one had become two tiny leaves! The peas pioneered the surface. They grew quickly, soon reaching tiny spiraling tendrils into the warm air, looking for something to climb.

After many days came the squash, with bigger, bolder leaves breaking the surface, and then the sunflowers. They all looked nearly the same at the beginning, just two plain little green leaves, some smaller than others. There wasn’t anything very special or distinguishing about them. But, ah, they were life, green life coming from brown dirt, black dung, dry seeds, clear water, yellow sunshine, and the miraculous hand of God.

From a distance, what was once a patch of dull brown became speckled with these bright spots of living green. Many many days passed. The blossoms came to the fruit trees and then the leaves. The sun became hot in the afternoons. The weeds surrounding the plot began to age and yellow. But on that once ugly, dray patch of ground, the green was overtaking the brown.

The leaves and stems stretched and stretched and stretched towards the sunshine, some faster and some slower. From those tiny seeds, sunflowers shot skyward, drinking in every drop of sunlight that came their way. Pumpkin vines began to spread their fuzzy arms along the ground. Squash plants sprouted like green fountains.

The sun beat down with all its might. But for all its withering fury, the plants only responded with stouter gladsome greenness. At the end of the hottest of days, they seem to be only bigger and lovelier for all the torment.

And then, between the leaves little blossoms opened their happy faces. Bright yellow, white, purple, all of them stating a silent promise. As they withered and faded, their bases began to grow fat. Next came skinny flat pea pods, tiny green tomatoes, thin cucumbers, and shiny purple eggplants. They grew and they grew. Some of them changed color. Above it all the tops of the tallest plants began to swell and grow fat, fuzzy bulbs.

And one day, without warning, their protective leaves opened, and bright yellow and rusty red faces of sunflowers appeared. In the morning they watched the sun rise in the east, following it through its heavenly course until at last the witnessed it sink into the west, with colors to match them.

The plants draw the water and nutrients from that dull brown earth, and as they drink in the sunshine, they work a miracle in their members, and out comes the beautiful, rich fruit, red, green, yellow, purple, orange….

What machine could ever compare? What factory has made anything so magical and sweet and refreshing as a tomato straight out of the garden? Or what man-made process produces anything that snaps like a fresh bell pepper or cucumber?

What can money buy compared to standing in the middle of the greenness on a warm summer evening just after the sun has set, breathing in the special smell of tomato leaves, plucking a handful of cherry tomatoes here, a fat zucchini there, a bouquet of fresh basil there, watching the moon’s brightening reflexion shimmering in the watered troughs?

"And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and make your bones fat; you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not." Isaiah 58:11

© CLUTCH, 2010 unless otherwise sourced.
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