Sugar in the Ground

It’s been a great year for butterflies. I’ve seen winged things in drifts coming to my butterfly bush, lantana, inpatiens and lobelia, including species I’ve not often seen. Something called the Great Spangled Fritillary paid a visit, American Copper, many varieties of Swallowtail and a profusion of the magical Luna moth have been abundant this year.

This morning I was to the garden early, and as I unlatched the gate a cloud of yellow Swallowtail rose from the green, followed by red cardinals and a few bluebirds. I’ve been suffering a bit of depressive lethargy lately, and I had to coax myself out of bed, but I was so richly rewarded for my slight effort!  I didn’t have to struggle or sweat for it, just show up and pay attention.

I am a child-free woman by choice, and so my maternal drives arise around my animals and, I am discovering, my plants. When I see my little veggie plot, I feel a rush of pride and worry and curiosity and love, and without hesitation set to work watering the thirsty tomatoes.

It’s time to plant the fall crops, and I have plenty of space where earlier plants have come and gone. Yellow bush beans were a huge success. My zuchinni was like a dragon that gave and gave and gave. Onions and chard and cukes have all finished for now. My garden mentor has already dug her potatoes and turned the earth, planting spinach, chard, lettuces, kale, broccolli, carrots and more. I have much to do.

I move the hose about, giving everyone a good soak. I pluck the ripe tomatoes, of which I seem to have 4 distinct types so far: orange grape, romas, Burpee hybrids that are perfectly round, and another volunteer that is medium-small but not a cherry variety. This week I made a batch of sauce — oh, my fragrant and delicious, the fire of summer went right into the freezer. Now I’m gearing up for some real canning — that will be a first in many years. It’s long since time to pull the beets, as that will free up the largest plot I have  for fall crops. The beet tops are bitten and dry but the woody shoulders standing above the soil promise fat roots below. As I rinse and trim their tops, I can see the vivid magenta inside.

As an artist, I know I feed on the lusciousness of colour, but I’m not the only one. Those butterflies, as well as the hummingbirds and bees, come to sip from brilliantly coloured flowers. Yellow buddleia, orange lantana, red and pink impatiens, purple lobelia, and all the sunny oranges, reds, pinks and yellows of the zinnias in my vegetable garden call to the sugar-seekers.

I’m holding a fat beet in my hand, marveling at the bright pink and magenta target revealed when I sliced off it’s woody top. Hot pink stains my hand, and I’m drawn into a favorite  childhood memory:

Once peach season arrived, the family would pile in the boat to go up the River Snye to the Ontario town of Wallaceburg. The river had a no-wake law– effectively, a speed limit– so our sleek and speedy boat idled  for an hour or so along the placid river through fields and orchards. Some farmers with roadside stands had a dock for river traffic, and we’d get a bushel of peaches for canning.

As we drew near the town, the blue-green water grew murky, then brown. As we came around the bend to see the first bridge the water was distinctly red. By the time we passed the beet sugar plant, the V of our wake was in  red-raspberry water, and the foamy waves were pink.  We passed the plant, and the water turned back to it’s usual sea green-blue, clear with waving river grasses and sandy bottom below.

I never saw that pink river as pollution; it was a short season, and the red beet colour disappeared before it ever reached the big river. More I marveled at the snowy white bag of sugar that came from those dark red roots we dug from our own garden.

I’ve heard it said that our colour vision may have evolved to help us get good nutrition. Think of the foods rich in vitamins and nutrients: carrots, blueberries, tomatoes, not to mention the chlorophyll that ultimately feeds us all. Those butterflies heed the signal blazed by the flowers: sweetness here!

As I pluck the warm tomatoes from the vine and imagine them bubbling in the pot, destined for jars of sauce, I’m delighted by the summer sun captured for me. And when I open that jar some wintry night and enjoy the contents. may I remember the ruby fire of  summer, and the brilliant colours of the garden calling : “Sweetness Here!”

9 thoughts on “Sugar in the Ground”

  1. As a child-rich woman/parent I really enjoyed your essay. Wish that I had the time and creativity to do that. And I, too, have noticed more butterflies this year. I always want to talk to them. Somehow I think they could answer. Really loved Snakey Beach. How big is it? I need one of those ….. someday

  2. Beautiful, Patrise—just beautiful. As a life-long city girl who has never lived even near the country, I envy people who delight so viscerally in nature, who not only take the time and effort to create and tend a garden, but also clearly relish all of it. I think something is missing from my genes? soul? Tried to call you today—no luck. Love, Joan

  3. Patrise, you painted this with words with as sure a hand as you would a brush. How lush, vibrant, and vivid you made it seem. I felt like I was there with you. And as a fellow lover of gardening, and the intricacies and workings of nature, I loved every detail you shared.

    This is such a beautiful post. I think, in the heart of winter when the garden is asleep, and so much of nature takes a rest, you should re-send this lovely post, and remind us that the circle of life will bring us back around to harvest joys as soon as may be.

  4. As a childless male by choice I spend much of my time in my garden of spiritual books and practices. Yet I could never desribe them as colrfully as the pure Mandala of your garden. Your impressionistic rendering of “Snakey Beach” is great . All my best!

  5. Thank you, Patrise, for this delicious post! You truly are an artist. This essay almost felt like a painting, a visual art – with all the luscious colors and contrast. I also loved how you likened your gardening to motherhood, with its “rush of pride and worry and curiosity and love”. You nailed it! As a mom, I often feel that whole mix, all at once.

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