Heat and haze, dry streams and cool ocean fog. Tomatoes ready and red on the vine, or golden, striped, brown, green, and marbled, a rainbow of tomatoes. Peaches and plums in the orchard, and the green apples ripening. Tender purple figs, peppers in every shape and color, melons as varied as marbles. Curved eggplants, hanging beans, hidden cucumbers, rampant squash. The summer garden in all its glory is in full swing, and those that have scaled their gardening back in this drought year can still get a taste of the season at the local farmer’s markets. Even those with an abundant home garden can still find something to covet at the market stalls; a spray of herbs, a bag of stone fruit. Community.
Karla’s garden (remember, the one she said she wasn’t going to sow this year?) is pumping out the cucurbits; cucumbers, squash, and melons. On our Homestead Happiness show last week, in the middle of the talk, Karla began heaping garden gifts into my lap, zucchini in every color, and smoothly shining cucumbers, too much to fit on my seated lap, such an abundance of harvest that I completely lost my train of thought. Later, after the show, we sat outside at a local restaurant, sipping drinks and chatting as old friends will.
“Did you ever see that movie, Men In Black?” Karla asked, and I nodded knowingly, sheepishly; we’ve watched it at home a dozen times at least, one of several old movies in archaic plastic cases that we still have the device to play. “You know that part where the old guy alien and his cat with the universe on its collar are meeting their handler in the diner? And he takes out a little pouch and gives it to the handler, who says, ‘''Is that what I think it is?”” and he says, “‘No, it’s just some diamonds for your children.”’
“Well,” Karla said, “that’s how I feel every time I bring my friends this homegrown produce. Some diamonds for your children.”
“Wow,” I told her, “I’m gonna use that in the journal this week.” And here we are.
Savoring this priceless treasure, given freely, no less valuable for being given so. The cucumbers that she left in my lap, that I gathered into a basket to carry home, glowing with the fact of their inherent value, and the extra value of the context in which they were given. Grown with love, given in love. What dollar amount could ever hope to compare with such bounty? The next day, I sliced them, and covered them with salt brine. Over the next few days I watched their clear green jewel tones become clouded with the bacteria that induce fermentation, changing and shifting, metamorphosing. The brine cloudy as a misty morning. The shapes of the cucumbers obscured in the fog of transfiguration. A week later, they are ready to taste, though their flavor will continue to develop over the next few weeks. Crunch and salt and dill and garlic; the kind of diamonds you can eat and be nourished by. You can call them pickles, if that seems more appropriate to you. But I’ll keep calling them diamonds, from now on.
The flats of stone fruit that my farmer friend Nadine (of Birdsong Orchards) has gifted me every year: diamonds.
The apples we glean in fall in return for pruning apple trees in winter: diamonds.
This week’s Golden Ketchup recipe is another gem.
I suppose we can’t call everything diamonds . . . but it is a joy, and not too far a stretch, to see the pantry as a treasure chest of gleaming gems. Jam like rubies, golden ketchup topaz, opal zucchini relish . . . And with this jeweled filter over our eyes, it is easy to see the treasure even as it grows on branch and vine, even before it ripens, in homes and on the streets and in the wooded hills. Bright citrus, unripe apples, pumpkins just beginning to change from green to orange. Almost as if the whole and entire world is an entire treasure; friendship, vegetables, the kindness of strangers, the very earth and the invisible microbes at work all around us. The hard lessons and the hidden pleasures and the discovery of self and other. Multi-faceted, bound in ore, soil and water and air and spirit, gleaming with inherent value. This one and only, beloved world.
Robin Wall Kimmerer has this to say in the same vein. “In a gift economy, wealth is understood as having enough to share, and the practice for dealing with abundance is to give it away. In fact, status is determined not by how much one accumulates, but by how much one gives away. The currency in a gift relationship is relationship, which is expressed as gratitude, as interdependence and the ongoing cycles of reciprocity. A gift economy nurtures the community bonds which enhance mutual well-being; the economic being is “we” rather than “I”, as all flourishing is mutual.”
In this complex and pivotal time, we live within the constraints of conflicting value systems, which sometimes (often) clash with and contradict each other. It can be no easy task to balance the differing value systems that we subscribe to and those that are imposed on us due to economics, convenience, governance, and proximity to resources. None of us are a perfect embodiment of all that we hold to be true. But we have to start somewhere, moving toward a world in which we all care for and tend each other in more meaningful ways. A lap full of cucumbers, zucchini, and other diamonds is a good place to start.
by Jessica Tunis