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The Farthermost View

Essays and Stories




Daddy Longlegs

It's at about this point every summer that I get tired of my garden. The year in which I'm writing this has been as typically atypical as any; the spring was cold and wet, and lasted until June 15, at which point the rain utterly stopped. A few weeks later the heat heaved its way in, and now, at the end of July, I am sitting in the air- conditioned inside, looking out the window at oakleaf hydrangeas sagging with browning blossoms, hostas dripping pale flowers, burnt-out fern fronds, and nearly leafless red-twigged dogwoods. I'm stingy with water, and the Mayapples have yellowed and fallen to the ground; the dainty little ninebark cultivar has shriveled, crinkly leaves, and the dwarf swamp azalea is naked.


About a hundred square feet of my yard gets enough sun for vegetables, and into them I have crammed five raised beds and half a dozen big pots, in which I've planted tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, tromboncini, kabucha and spaghetti squash, chard, lettuce, carrots, leeks, onions, eggplant, cucumbers, beans, bok choi, cilantro, arugula, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and basil. And some herbs. Somehow, despite my many years of gardening experience, I have never internalized the information that vegetable plants grow. So what looked in June like a tidy, carefully planned arrangement is now a jungle of six-foot tomato plants, sprawling vines, bulging rows of stalks, vast leaves riddled with holes, and fragrant little plants gone rampant with seeds.


Watering the pots and beds is fairly simple. But clearly my watering is somewhat erratic, as I have already had to toss a couple of Cherokee Purples, which fell prey to blossom end rot; and once or twice I have looked out to see the cucumber vines hanging almost lifeless from the trellis on my deck, and had to rush out with liquid life support.


It is at times like this that I wonder why I bother to try to change the landscape around my house. Why not just buy a lawn? And why try to grow my own, when I can get perfectly good vegetables from California, Chile, Canada, and New Jersey if I scamper in and out of the grocery store during the Old People's Safety Window?


I remember the answer when I take my fifteen minute break from the computer. I step outside with my cup of tepid coffee, and the dogs and I make our rounds. First through the vegetables then into the shady part of the yard, where the temperature seems to drop by ten degrees, and the thirsty leaves and blossoms are moving in the hint of a breeze.

There are chipmunks and birds, bees and beetles. There's a harvestman on every composite, a katydid nymph in every tubular flower.


Something is going on everywhere. Plants are growing, dying, climbing, rotting. Creatures are eating, mating, laying eggs, climbing trees, scampering, chattering, singing, flying. Animals are under and on things; plants are growing underneath other plants; shadows are moving across the ground.


I imagine a flawless green lawn can be a soothing propsect. But I prefersitting down on the still-sturdy old wooden swing under the big white pine, next to the winterberry heavy with berries, facing the shady patch of solomon seal, jacks in the pulpit, black cohosh and wild ginger, dark, easy on the eyes, and fairly vibrating with life.

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