"It’s still watermelon season, right?” Silas asks, hungrily eyeing a pile of round green melon at the grocery store. We’ve been feeling the onset of autumn lately, the merest crispness to the air, sunset earlier than it was a month ago. Even so, it’s still melon season, all right, though we might be nearing the tail end of it. We inspect the melons closely, looking for the yellow patch that tells you it was ripened in the field and not harvested before the full sweetness had developed. We lift and thump several of the melons, our ears tuned to find the perfect pitch as we thump and listen, discard it, thump another. You want to hear a taut, resonant note, like the head of a drum, a crispness of sound that betokens a crisp watermelon. A dull sound indicates that the melon might be rubbery.
Last week, we visited Chris at Sea to Sky Farms, and interviewed her for our weekly Homestead Happiness segment on Instagram and Facebook. We talked about farming, of course, why we do it, why we love it, and how. We laughed a lot, too, enjoying each other’s company in the slanting afternoon sun. Chris is always experimenting with growing different crops, finding which ones will work well for her two farm locations. She grows melons up at the Sky Farm in Bonny Doon, where the ridge top heat lets them ripen to sweetness. When the wifi connection suddenly quit on us in the middle of our live show, we shrugged, and wandered up the hill together, into the field where melons, among other crops, sprawled on the loamy soil. When the melons are in the field, there are other ways to assess ripeness; the tiny, curling cucurbit tendrils that help the vine crawl and climb will begin to dry when the melon is ripe, and the pale white spot where the fruit lays on the ground, shielded from sun, turns a creamy yellow. By these signs we know our fruits, by scent and sound, hue and heft and weight. Measured sweetness in a marbled rind.
After our field trip to the farm, Chris loaded us down with farmer’s bounty; boxes of winter squash, the treasure of a few ripe avocados, a basket of ground cherries in pale, rustling husks. We waved goodbye as we drove off, on our way in the last fading hour of daylight to visit another garden.
This garden belongs to a friend of Karla’s, whose plans to move out of state came to fruition sooner than they thought. The summer garden was planted, but the homesteaders had to leave before the harvest came in. The house will be sold, eventually, to someone who will hopefully love and tend the garden with the same care that is so evident here, but in the meantime, the harvest is dripping from the vines, even though the garden has been without water for weeks now. Such bounty from the friable earth; towering cages of ripe tomatoes, a tangled mass of pepper plants, bells and horns and blocky Anchos, in every color. Take it all, she was told, We’ll feel better knowing that someone is making use of all the hard work and love we put into it. So we visit the garden weekly, to carry away boxes of the gleaned treasures. Another 13 quarts of whole peeled tomatoes kept me up that night, canning until past midnight, because I had to leave on a trip the next day. Bleary in the kitchen steam, watching the minute hand mark the time; process 45 minutes for quarts; sometimes the thought crosses my mind that this is a lot of work to go through for something that can be had on any grocery shelf in the county. When I pull the jars, steaming and gleaming, brilliant red-orange from the kettle, I remember why. The satisfying ping of sealing jar lids serenades me to sleep, as the jars cool in the kitchen, There are many ways to lose sleep, but some are worthier than others. I label these jars “whole”, because I packed them whole rather than crushing them as I often do. And because wholeness is a thing that I want to call in, a completing of the circles. From seed to fruition to compost and over again. From intention to manifestation, plenty and wholeness, a nearness to the center. Small rituals and practices that make up a whole life, tending the garden and tending the cycles, even as they shift with every season.
Last week’s journal was written on the beach, but this one is written in the early morning from an empty living room in Portland, before the rest of the house rises. I’m up here helping another friend move. She left her home in Santa Cruz county and came north, a change of scene, a new life to begin. It was a long drive, and late nights along the way; I felt the lack of sleep from my late night tomato canning the night before we left. In my traveling backpack, though, I slipped a jar of those tomatoes, a brilliant orange variety that matches this beloved’s hair. A large gift tag tied to the rim reads as follows, telling in fewer words, the story just related: “ I stayed up late the night before your move, processing 13 quarts of gleaned tomatoes from an abandoned garden-folks had planted, not knowing they would move so soon, and were happy to know the harvest would be used. Most of the tomatoes were red, but there were enough gorgeous orange tomatoes to make this one jar.” The other side says, “Is it a metaphor, is it a mood, is it a moment? Is it just a jar of tomatoes? Yes to all these possibilities. Happy housewarming, may you be nourished and supported and delighted." Before I leave, I’ll slip it into her pantry, a kind of seed stock for the abundance that I wish for her, and for all of us. Wholeness.
by Jessica Tunis