Learning From My Tomatoes

by Neal Lemery

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

(Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 6/19/2022)

I’m always learning from my garden, even when I think I “know it all”, and expect that things will always go as planned, and that I’m old and wise, and there’s nothing left to learn.

Well, I’m old, but wisdom is often elusive, and there are always lessons to be learned. And, if I don’t think I need to learn, life comes along and ensures that I do my homework and pay attention to the lessons that I need to learn, and the simple lessons are often the most profound.

The recent cold and wet weather have taken their toll on me. It’s mid-June and my flowers and vegetables are struggling to settle in and put on their usual burst of growth and productivity. Everything seems about a month behind, and I’m wondering if I’ll have any apples this year. I slog around the yard in my garden boots, listening to the squishiness of my footsteps. I watch the grass and weeds grow higher and higher, my efforts on the occasional dry hour not able to keep up with what a friend calls “lush growth”.

I’ve had some extra tomato plants occupying a corner of the greenhouse, with me not really having space for them in the still chilly and soggy garden, and not being willing to toss a perfectly good plant. They haven’t been looking good lately, pot-bound, not being cared for regularly, and stuck in a rather dark corner. The shade cloth on the greenhouse was designed for sunnier days, and its presence has brought more doom and gloom to these poor plants, adding more darkness in addition to the gray clouds.

A friend recently expressed interest in needing more tomatoes, so I had some renewed focus on tomato growing. I repotted them, added fertilizer, and adjusted the shade cloth so more of the gray light of this odd June could help them revive. I even turned the greenhouse heater back on, and plugged in a heating mat, to drive away the chill of the weather.

Perhaps it is my imagination, but even a day of renewed warmth and light has revived them, and given them some hope.

I’ve applied that gardening lesson to myself, too. Yesterday, the sun came out for an afternoon. I decided I needed some repotting, sunshine, and fertilizer, too. I took myself to the beach. I began to notice the beauty of a summer day, my eyes squinting in the bright light, looking at flowers, trees, waterfalls, and the sparkly brightness of the ocean and the beach. Others were out too, exploring the beach, going fishing, or just walking around in the sunshine, like me. The air was fresh and warm and I got the blood circulating and the leg muscles stretched and worked out. I realized I was surrounded by beauty and serenity, and the miracles of what Nature can offer us.

Like the tomatoes, I felt my roots grow and my leaves reaching up for the warm sunshine of a summer’s day. The doldrums of yet another day of cool showers and gray skies was pushed away by that feel that we live in a beautiful place, and need to get out and soak up all the goodness and light of where we live.

6/17/22

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Neal Lemery

Neal Lemery

Author of Building Community, Rural Voices for Hope and Change; Mentoring Boys to Men, Climbing Their Own Mountains; Finding My Muse on Main Street.