Sunlight to Sugar

lentil saladMay came blooming and skipping and shining into the garden; we had hardly taken a breath, it seemed, before she was nearly gone. In her wake she leaves longer days, a basket of flowers, swelling buds on the pepper plants. Beans sprout beneath the sunflowers. Something has eaten away all the cucumber leaves from the young seedlings. A caterpillar? But we cannot find the pest. The small birds hop through it all, through May and toward June, darting with bright dark eyes and thin legs. Find the cucumber-eating culprit, little dinosaurs, won’t you?

On the steep hillsides, the green grass is already yellowed, though the lupines and spine flowers and phacelia are still blooming in the dry thatch. The river begins its slow retreat, exposing more of the stream bed already that we would like; drought looms this year, a visible shadow, bright on the slick rocks.

We dig potatoes from beneath the yellowing vines. Though we try to get them all, doubtless some will remain; potatoes are the eternal solanum, always returning to a place they have been grown. They gleam like buried treasure in the dark soil, somehow full of the sun that has never touched the tuber. Plants turn sunlight into sugar. This fact stuns us over and over. It seems particularly relevant, holding this basket of sun-made, dirt-dug, earthy carbohydrate gemstones. See how they gleam with it, before they are dug and dulled. Like seashells taken from the shore, they are never so vibrant as when they are in the place they were made.
Gardening has a way of elevating the significance of even the humblest spud or kale leaf. When we grow it ourselves, we understand better the investment of care and effort, (and soil and sun and water and time) that went into its cultivation. Perhaps elevate is not quite the word; the investment remains the same regardless of whether it is acknowledged. The significance is highlighted, perhaps, when we grow it ourselves. It becomes more apparent to us, though it is always there. This is how it is when you love anything. What we love becomes a window and a mirror, a place of reflections and deeper understanding. We are drawn and joined to what we love, strengthened by it, made vulnerable by it, cracked open by it. We harvest it and are fed by it and sow the seeds of future relationship. Oh, it’s easy to love the garden this time of year, all full of promise and blossom, and only a few stripped cucumbers to dampen the prospects of abundant, untroubled harvest. The dream is easy to believe in, in May. The further we get into the season, the more we have to lose and gain. The higher the stakes, the greater the prospect of joy and loss. But this early in the year, the cukes can be replanted, seeds or starts, that will bear in a couple months. In love and gardening, risk and reward are always in flux. We choose this, over and over.
Long days, warming nights. String lights from Costco strung out over a trellised table in the garden. Friends gather, and we ply them with citrus-based cocktails, fresh snap peas, the kale that needs to be eaten to make room for the summer crops. You can slip kale into almost anything! It is lovely, ribboned and added into the lentil salad featured above. Add some more mint, maybe, and/or some parsley to balance the strongly flavored kale. This is how we like to use a recipe; as an inspiration and a starting point. A reminder of what flavors sing sweetest in each others company. This dish is enjoyable year-round, of course, but it seems especially fitting now, a kind of culinary bridge between cool spring and hot summer. Cool mint and hot ginger, lentil, vinegar and sesame and hazelnut and sweet dried fruit . . . so many notes, but they are harmonious, too, in the way of birdsong and merry gatherings. Sometimes when a dinner party is winding down, it’s nice to slip into the garden and listen to friends laughing and talking from afar. The words blur together, but laughter rises over it, conversations thread through it, contentment settles over it like deepening dusk. The lights glow brighter against the dark. The evening stretches on, the year stretches ahead and behind us. What a ride it is, flying on this marble through space and time. We await the sprouting of cucumber seeds, beneath the leaning stick trellis.