Just last Sunday afternoon at about 4:30 a groom ground his heel on a wine glass, Sarah and Erich, the newly pledged couple, embraced and slipped out of the chuppa to greet their guests. To the right of the chuppa the small canopy which had protected the string quartet from the slanting September sun stood empty except for a lone guitarist who improvised in lovely dreamy cadences and Maya, three years old and dancing to the music, black curls springing, her hand holding the hem of her white dress in an ancient gesture of feminine grace. Behind them, behind the whole party, the vines grew in straight rows alongside the grass paths that protected them from weeds and trampled soil.
It was the middle one of three summer weddings and it provided the theme of hope for all of them–hope and love–the two being closely aligned. Earlier Alexa and Justin were married at the Cornell Chapel, and in two weeks Jessica and Alex will tie the knot in a traditional ceremony at another Long Island venue. Sometimes you hear it said that it takes so much courage to make this important decision, to take this giant step into the future, but I think it may be the irresistibly human thing to do, impossible to ignore, in particular because hope and love are the bedrock of our persistent human existence.
It won’t be a surprise to anyone to know that I thought about all this in our garden this morning. Absent was the aesthetic purity of the vines marching down their green aisles. This garden of ours is as undisciplined as the vineyard was neat and well-mannered, but it was just as enthusiastic, and it engendered the sense of unlimited growth. No doubt there has been something about the weather that is causing this almost indecent spread of vines and leaves. It is certainly a year for growing herbs and greens. Earlier it seemed to me that it was all going to turn up and die. I was constantly being reminded of my mother’s frequent remark that something not quite up to par “looked like the last of pea time.” But Betsy’s faith remained undiminished through accidents and disasters. At the onset of the tiny snails she sprinkled some crushed rock. She sprayed to discourage deer who continued to jump the fence. When the heat and lack of water threatened to kill everything Betsy carried water. In the end only six yellow Italian bean plants survived, but during the spectacular recovery of surviving plants those six climbed up the fence and at this time are producing a couple of meals a week.
Each of the three by four- foot beds had to be developed individually. A more organized gardener than I might have measured the soil elements for every bed, but I did it by the seat of my pants and only succeeded in mysterious quantities of mulch, peat and manure. I also planted rye grass early in spring and turned it under a short time before I planted seeds or sets. Of course I did stick to my guns when I prepared the tomato bed, but made a mistake with what I put in it. For a while, even in the worst of our problems that tomato bed was successful. I put in two tomatoes, four peppers and one basil. Those plants remained relatively inactive, coming up just gradually in their frames. Tomatoes appeared early, but a deer attacked them and ate every single small fruit. They ate down the squash and the kale. Luckily Betsy took over once again, didn’t lose heart, kept everything alive. And without warning there was sun and rain and growth that can hardly be described. Long arms of tomatoes and squash have tangled together. Yellow squash provides enough to eat it every day and even freeze some. Slicing tomatoes are not getting ripe even though they are weighing down the plant, tipping over the frame and putting fruit on the path, which I was told must not happen in protecting tomatoes from rot. We will see. We can expect frost from now on.
But wait, it has rained about ten inches here. Water has run a river down East St. People have been evacuated from several neighborhoods. And yet…the garden soldiers on. Of course we have already lost a good part of their existence. Next year, the farmer says.
This garden of ours will survive. The young people know this and though they will probably be tested over and over again they will persevere. We all, plants and people, are made of cells that hope to survive. But while plants simply do what their cells tell them to do, we human beings can choose, and as we listen to our cells and their demands we also make a decision. We choose out of hope and love, to follow the path that our humanity has decreed.