Resilience For Our Times

cherry pitterWe planted a last round of paste tomatoes yesterday, found a spot in the garden just big enough for half a dozen San Marzanos. A little late, but that has been the theme of this year, seemingly, and if the weather predictions are to be trusted (sprinkled with salt, as all such predictions must be) we may have a long dry summer and fall ahead of us; not great for the water table, but time enough for late-planted tomatoes to set fruit and ripen. All the tomato cages had already been used up, but since we live in a redwood forest, there is no shortage of sticks to use as supports. It was easy to make a series of teepee shaped supports to encase the young tomatoes. As we tied the rough stakes together, we got to musing, about adversity and resilience. The tomatoes, being more vine than shrub, need support to maximize their exposure to sun and to keep the developing fruits off of the ground. As the plant grows, we’ll loosely wind or tie the stems to the trellis. But we’ll always leave a little room for the plant to flex and sway and move with the breezes.

We learned a hard lesson about this, once upon a time; in a high wind spot, we staked a fremontedendron so tightly that it could not move at all. We thought we were doing the young shrub a favor, giving it so much support, but in fact, we hamstrung its growth potential. The trunk became brittle and eventually snapped in a mild storm, because it never got a chance to sway in the breeze. You see, every time a branch sways or moves in the wind, it causes micro-tears in the lignin of the stalk. As these tiny tears heal, they strengthen the trunk, causing the tree to be stronger than if it had never been stressed in this way. We’re always digging for metaphors in this garden soil, but this one rises easy to the surface, like those potatoes we dug a few weeks back. It’s almost like we need a certain amount of friction to get stronger, right? If we are never tested, we never have an opportunity to grow to our highest potential. Roots that are only watered at the surface will never stretch deeper. A muscle that’s never been asked to do heavy lifting will not grow strong.

There’s a lot of talk these days about resistance, and it is true that there are so many battles worth fighting hard for. We’re not advocating an end to direct resistance where appropriate. But resistance can sometimes be a brittle thing, a reflexive, rigid mindset of opposition. Against such phenomenon as weather and climate, however, the concept of resilience as opposed to resistance is a useful one to consider. Resilience bends and stretches, moves in the currents, while resistance attempts to stand up straight against the forces that act upon it. Resilience is seen in the grasses that bend before the wind, and spring up again after the squall has passed. Resilience is the branch that flexes and dances in the storm, resilience the water that gradually wears a path even through sheer stone; see: the Grand Canyon. Resilience is gracious but firm. Resilience gives way in the short term, only to grow back stronger.

This last year and a half has asked a lot out of all of us. We have been asked to cultivate resilience in any number of ways, from finding recipes to make our own hand sanitizer, to homeschooling our children, crowdsourcing sourdough cultures and toilet paper, and working from home or in layers of PPE away from home. Resistance is futile against the ravages of global pandemic, but resilience has carried us through, as we have grown and adapted to constantly shifting circumstances. This week marked the end of masking requirements in most public spaces across California, and the collective sigh of relief is palpable. As we move into an era newly informed by both our fallibility and our capacity for adaptation, we’ll carry the lessons of resilience forward. The tomato plants will grow and the harvest layered in quart jars to fill the pantry. The farmer’s markets will swell with all the fruit we do not grow at home, or just want more of . . . like cherries.
The cherry mostarda recipe featured this week utilizes an unusual preservation method to transform the sweetness of cherries into a savory fruit mustard; a joining, a merging of flavor elements. It’s delightful on a cheese board; remember those? We have them sometimes at these things called parties. It’s wild. People take their masks off, and gather with friends in indoor spaces. They laugh and hug and eat food together. They remind each other of the past, and look forward together to the future. They cultivate resilience in each other, leaning into one another when the wind blows, and when the storms have passed, they help each other get back up again.