A gentle rain is falling. It’s evening now and all is quiet. Too quiet! With every passing moment the garden, the malignant garden is growing. We’ve warned friends to watch out, that the squash vines may be growing faster than they can run! Savvy friends visiting our ranch know about our squash problem and lock their cars, lest their back seats somehow mysteriously become filled with zucchini, neatly stacked like cord wood.
My sweetheart has far too green a thumb, way too much of a good thing. She tries to blame our composted chicken crap from our hens for bursting garden beds. I tell her she’s being ridiculous. “If chicken crap could cause such growth, why we’d have redwood trees at work!”
And yet her pansies and cosmos have hurdled log end edging and are marching out into the gravel drive. I’ve warned her that I’m close to classifying these as noxious weeds and considering getting after them with Round Up and the weed eater! But her pleas for mercy melt my resolve. . . . Meanwhile Johnny jump ups huddle and plot from under the front deck.
Our garden is planted right up to our bedroom windows. Just outside huge waving zucchini leaves and six foot sunflower stalks resemble the flags and standards of a besieging Roman army. Snapdragons crowd the bottom edge of the living room picture window, peeping in at us. Petunias and marigolds riot in barrels on the front deck.
“I just don’t know what to say,” my sweetheart offers. “They’re mostly volunteers from last year’s flowers, coming up on their own.”
Apparently the volunteer plant army is being all it can be. . . .
Friends, practical friends, engineer friends have tried to warn me off gardening altogether. “With the time and money invested, you’re way better off just buying your produce from the store.” People do wonder why we’d spend hard earned money on garden tools that unfortunately fit our hands so that we can then engage in backbreaking work and come in at days end all sweaty and with socks black around the ankles. And then my logical, practical engineer friends wonder aloud why, at the very least, why I would be a willing accomplice to my wife’s folly? “Waste of time and money!” I hear it again and again.
But it’s a hobby. Last year we pulled in over 200 pounds, wheelbarrow loads of winter squash (and I love the stuff) from our garden. The squash in our root cellar fed us and some friends too, clear into the next May. We buy vegetables only 12 weeks a year. No, not practical perhaps, but how many hobbies pay any dividend at all? I remember my sweetie laughing and saying that spaghetti squash is $1.79 a pound at the market. “We’re squash millionaires!” was her laughter filled observation.
Thinking of my very practical friends, none of whom garden, I am reminded of an old saying about folks who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. The simple and biggest reason that I am a willing accomplice in the garden is that it makes her happy.
She bursts through the door in her huge sun hat, a rose blush to her tanned cheeks and grinning from ear to ear. “Have you seen the peas today?” she asks, and: “The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye! Come! Come see!” She takes my hand and together we step out into late summer golden evening light to survey our garden and its eager, optimistic and leaping growth.
Evenings on the ranch become chilly as darkness comes sooner with autumn. Then one night there’s a touch of frost and the squash vine’s leaves collapse like damp tissue paper. We let our squash turn a deep golden yellow on the vines and before the nights become too cold, we harvest them all. Ultimately even our hardiest plants succumb to the encroaching, inexorable icy breath of winter.
Daylight grows short and winter is with us in earnest. Caught in icy winds, trees naked and skeletal beat their knobby, sere branches against our west windows. Wind moans around the house and snow crystals pile up in drifts on the deck where once in our memory of longer days we sat taking it all in, drinking tea and breathing fragrant warm evening air.
Winter wears on at the ranch. I come in from feeding and breaking the ice off the animals’ water with chapped cold cheeks and a frigid dripping nose. Shucking snowy boots, I pad over and do the wood stove hug, closely encircling but not touching the hot stove pipe. Water sizzles as the snow melts off of me and patters onto the stove top. Warmed but still damp, I sit for dinner. The wind rises and our stove pipe shudders. In pitch blackness snow hisses against dark window panes.
Smiling proudly, she sets it all before me. Our beloved squash, bursting with flavor, awaits my fork. I smile up at her smiling down. Before I even touch the chicken, I dig my fork into a hot, sweet and buttery mound—of summer.
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Rancher/writer Tom Preble lives in his self-built, earth-bermed, and energy-efficient home and ranch on the Palmer Divide east of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Something of a Renaissance Man, Tom has wide ranging interests, from astronomy to welding to philosophy. Trained as a computer electronics engineer, Tom is retired now and looks forward to expanding his writing.