Young men are jealous of each other’s muscles, cars, athleticism, girlfriends, etc.—almost everything superficial when it comes to evaluating real pride and self-worth. Now that I’m no longer so young, I wonder if it can be considered a sign of maturity that I covet another man’s garden.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m proud of my own garden, and I can enumerate the things I love about it without pause. There’s the breeze that shakes the corn as dusk drapes the garden in soft New Mexico light. At the same time, the husks of tomatillos are limned with a glow that offsets the strange color and ponderous sway of the amaranth.
In the middle of the night, at the urging of the moon, onion spores and carrot tops cast shadows against kale and collards while the pungent scent of basil blooms races through a low canopy of comfrey, parsley and rogue datura. An underbelly of purslane, which others might prefer to be more groomed, glows with earthy, energetic persistence.
Early in the morning, everything reaches eagerly for the sun, and the moist soil that clings to fingers probing the earth instills a sense of calm, of sustenance, of safety that removes the garden—and myself—from the chaos of a weird, vicious, uncertain world.
Not every day is a picnic, of course. I’m not fond of the way the cabbages so eagerly invite aphids or the way sweet, new growth is routinely offered to squirrels and birds before I get my turn. I’m confused by the way carefully tended seeds refuse to grow despite my tender, determined attention. Why do beautiful lettuces go to seed rather than waiting for me to work around to them? I would prefer that squash bugs not be in the garden, but somehow there’s always a welcome mat. It feels like I’m being disrespected. I don’t even want to go into the way tomatoes promise plump, wanton pleasure one day and become old crones the next. Chiles can be equally fickle.
And, of course, the damn thing is so needy, requiring water, nutrients, weeding—the list goes on. But the garden also provides, and that available embrace is enough to forget the difficulties and the compromises. Small hidden
strawberries and provocative cucumbers, taut eggplants and new potatoes, garlic and shallots enough to carry through winter: These are joys and privileges that should never be questioned.
So why did I stare at another man’s garden with naked lust? How were the vegetables so large and eager? Why were those fruits fed by dry, desperate New Mexico soil so beguiling?
Looking at something so attractive isn’t terrible, but I know it’s wrong to touch. Still, I couldn’t help myself. I admit to tasting his garden’s corn, and its sweetness still lingers on my tongue like a lost love.
The worst part is realizing that this wasn’t a beautiful garden that another man simply possesses; it’s a beautiful garden because of him. My own garden would probably love him more than it loves me.
Or I could always swallow my pride and ask for some tips. Maybe next year I’ll be wise and mature enough to help someone who envies my own garden.
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