Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Gray Summer

This is the grayest coldest and dampest summer I've seen here in a long time.

I was up at about 5 am; puttering about, shower, shave, French press full of coffee. I took my coffee out onto the back porch and looked at the cold and soggy garden. It is unfortunate weather for my tomatoes. They need the dusty heat of the summer sun. The blueberries are late too. If this keeps up, instead of feasting in August, I'll have tomato salad and blueberry pie for Thanksgiving. The rhubarb seems happy, but the lettuce and beans, which should thrive in this weather, are sulking and refusing to thrive.

But there is one vegetable which is doing well, and it was the bright spot of my morning.

I put my cup down on the porch railing and walked down the steps and out to the vegetable patch. The ground is so wet that even though we use raised beds the area between rows sinks beneath my weight and I leave footprints in the dirt as I walk through and bend over to grab the base of a seven inch high cluster of eight broad leaves and pull.

There it is. People who buy these in a supermarket just don't know what a wonderful thing a radish is. Beneath the green crown of the leaves is a large darkish red globe nearly two inches in diameter. Below that Dirt clings to it. It's good dirt.

The garden was dug by hand with shovel and digging fork. working on our hands and knees, we shook the dirt out of the grass clods and tossed them into the wheelbarrow for hauling to the compost heap. The rocks were removed to a pile by the fence where they wait to become a wall or path. The soil was once full of clay and too dense for gardening.

But, we worked at it. We hauled wheelbarrow loads of our own compost, composted manure from a nearby farm, and peat moss to the plot, then dug it in mixing it, sometimes with a digging fork, sometimes with our hands, to loosen it. Now it is friable and, if it weren't so wet today, crumbles loosely in my hand.

This is the dirt that damply clings to the radish that I hold. This is not just any dirt. This is my dirt. This is wonderful dark rich pleasant dirt. This is dirt that is expensive in time, effort, care, and love.

That is to say ... this dirt is not going to be washed down any drain.

I brush off most of the dirt. Then I roll the radish in the moisture accumulated on the rhubarb leaves. I pull my pocket knife out, flip open the blade and cut off the stringy tendril of the lower part of the root and leave it on the ground.

I walk back to the porch and cut off the crown to use later (it makes excellent pesto, it's good in potato soup, and there's a curry recipe that I've wanted to try). I take a sip of coffee and admire the globular beauty of my radish. It is so red with just a hint of pure white flesh peeking through where I cut.

I decide to take my time, so I use the knife to cut myself a slice of the radish. The contrast between the red skin and white flesh is so dramatic that it almost looks fake, as if someone has been Photoshopping my garden.

I eat the slice of radish. It is crisp and and the white flesh snaps as I bite. There is just a moment, a brief one, where I can taste the sweetness of starch converting to sugar and a light hint of water drunk from an old wooden cup. Then the burn hits, a wave of peppery potency that overwhelms any delicacy of flavor as the radish bites back.

I take my time and finish the little beauty, forgetting my coffee and letting it get cold as I sit in the early morning drizzle, cold and wet, but with a little bit of warmth on my tongue.