A Perfect Dinner
Last night’s dinner was so beautiful I should have taken a photo. It was a stir-fry of zuccini, new onion and spring garlic, bok choy, thyme and thai basil, with bow-tie pasta. All the produce was freshly picked moments earlier from my own garden. The crowning touch, the brushstroke that made it ‘pop’ was when I tossed in the squash blossoms at the very end. Their dazzling tendrils or bright orange amid the green and white was the colour it needed to make a beautiful painting.
In order to acquire that dinner, I have been working the soil in my tiny plot since March. I’ve turned the clay, added compost, rotted leaves and manure, turned it again. Built beds with cedar poles from an old tobacco barn. Tenderly tucked seeds and plantlets into the dirt and watered them with encouraging words.Pulled out seedlings of things I didn’t plant.
Yesterday after harvesting I had a few new plants to put in. The clouds thickened into a wet dark grey mass, and rain fell in fat drops, pelting the large leaves of the zuccini plant with an audible “thwap!” I dug faster as the surface began to run with rivulets of muddy water. Thunder and lightning ensued. My dogs cowered under a nearby tree, rather put out by my behavior. At one point they were barking at me. I persisted: If I buy a plant it must go in the ground within 24 hours.
Finally, soaking wet but triumphant, my two new heirloom tomatoes, two New Mexican peppers and some new herbs were in their new home in earth.
Earth. Dirt. Soil.
We walk on it, it feeds us, it is the raw material from which some say we are made. Our words diminish its value: “dirty,” “soiled;” or celebrate its humble power: “earthy,” “grounded.” Here’s a paragraph about this stuff, from Annie Proulx’s amazing novel That Old Ace in the Hole — a book I whole-heartedly recommend to anyone who loves beautiful language, touching characters, and the interactions of people and place:
In his mind’s eye he saw the panhandle earth immemorially used and tumbled by probing grass roots, the cutting hooves of bison, scratchings of ancient turkeys, horses shod and unshod pounding along, the cut of iron-rimmed wheels, the slicing plow and pulverizing harrow, drumming hail, the vast scuffings of trailed cattle herds, the gouge of drill bits and scrape of bulldozers, inundations of chemicals. What was left was a kind of worn, neutral stuff, a brownish dust possessing only utility.
This year, with my first kitchen garden in 10 years, the soil is my canvas. (LOL, for those wondering where the “art” was in “Art•Spirit•Nature, this may be the explanation!) And I am learning to grow and eat close to home in healing ways that are beautiful and nourishing to all, not just myself. I hope you will enjoy this art as much as the painted kind. If you’re in the neighborhood, come over and help me eat it!