September 7th, 2023
By Bonnie Tarantino
I have been home a week and it has been a slow crawl back to myself. While playing house with all my kids for a month on the beach in Hawaii, I happily threw my almost empty nester self to the curb. Now I am trying to find her again and it has been a bit of transition. And I don’t blame her. Who would want to wiggle out of a bathing suit and cover up and put on spandex and running shoes? But I did make it to the gym.. twice. I also made the various doctor’s appointment necessary for the fall, I am waiting for a plumber as I write this and even took the good sundresses to the cleaners. Most importantly though, I finally got back into my garden.
It has been hot as you all know. It always is hot in September in MD but everyone always takes it so personally. I always send out a reminder….”Summer goes till the 22nd. September is also the beginning of the harvest, the hot harvest, the one where you must get up very early in the morning and get in the garden because it gets too hot by 9am.
So, I find myself out in the driveway by 7:30 am. I have cut and filled a big bin with swiss chard, kale, beet greens and beets. They float gleefully and seemingly drink and swell to rich colors. I swish and swish my hands in the cold water pulled right up from our well. This water has a sweet smell I love. In fact, I knew right away when I crossed the threshold and smelled the water in the pipes that I wanted to live on this property. I can always smell the water when I enter a house. I can smell the chlorine of water that has traveled from reservoirs for miles through pipes and filters or can smell the deep sweet hint of minerals that draw up from the rich water table right below.
The sun is up over the hedge and hitting the water in the bin and it is shimmering. I take my time to rub each leaf, inspect for bugs and slim. Suddenly my sinuses expand, and I can smell everything I have been blocking all week. The garage is open to air out the remnants of a dead rabbit we found hidden under the stair. Its stomach was hollowed out into a small dark universe of maggots moving and dissolving the animal to its core. Like a mini black hole, the animal is slowly being pulled into the gravity of nothingness. Scott carefully lifted it with a shovel with a “poor fella, wonder what got em?” and walked it over to the edge of the property to let it return to the void.
I turn back to my task moving my head to the other side smelling the grass burning in the sun. Everything is thirsty and begging for a sip of water from the hose. I notice the crab grass has grown up too close to the base of my peach tree. I stop what I am doing, get up and pull the grass away, digging with a shovel until a good circle is made around the base again. I give the tree water and a gentle thank you. I then smell scat from an animal and look to my left to see a beautiful blue eggshell from a Robin. It has been cracked and licked clean. I look up to my side gardens and cannot smell any flowers. My daffodils, peonies, lilac, irises, even echinacea are long gone. I will have to wait a whole year till I see them again. I count the months till I see Lucia and Jack again, September, Oct, November. Not too long. The only thing that holds the possibility of fragrance are my roses and they are holding all their moisture within until it finally rains, then they will generously release their fragrance into the petricor.
I return to my little stool to triple wash my bounty. First, I dump the dirty water in the garden. I can smell the ground opening its mouth to drink, releasing a musky smell from the work of worms. In the distance I notice my hydrangea in full bloom. They are ready for a good cutting, and I need to do this before the big pom pom flowers begin to look like big toasted marshmallows. I think of the vase I will use. I will make it big arrangement; one you can’t miss. This makes me happy to be home.
I think often how in other lives I must have been a farmer and that I always gardened, canned, stored food, watched for rain. I think about the desperation of my Irish ancestors when the ground would not open its gifts to them anymore during the potato famine, when they decided to put my Nana at 15 on ship to America so she wouldn’t starve. She was smart and quick and strong and knew how to handle people. She got on that boat and hardly looked back. At the end of her life she had brought over half her family and with six children of her own enjoyed 23 grandchildren. She would live long enough to only know five of her 35 great great grandchildren. Now the great great grandchildren come in a trickle. This newest generation is in no rush to propagate, unsure if the earth they walk on can sustain another generation. When my Nana got older and would come to stay with us, we had to keep our eye on her or she would wander off down the road weeding. Blocks and blocks away we would find her and bring her back with a fist full of daisies. I have her big meaty hands, her wide peasant feet, her curly hair, her strength and her soft brown eyes that twinkle with magic. I also have the habit of pulling off the road for a grab of wildflowers.
I finish my washing and lay the wet greens out on my outdoor table to dry. I pat them enjoying the deep purple and red veins in the swiss chard, the maroon, blue veined leaves of the beet greens and the three different shades of green in the Kale. I place them in zip lock bags with paper towels to hold the moisture at bay. I am surprised at how small my huge harvest now looks stored in sad plastic prisons. I will give a bag to my mother, and she will hold it to her heart in thanks. I will freeze some for my smoothies and will sauté some up tonight to serve over garlic bread, or rice, or chicken. I have promised a friend he will love swiss chard if he just tries it. I will be sure he does.
I come into the house with my treasures to Maya eating the zucchini bread I made last night. “Mom this is the best batch ever!” We say that to each other often. I must admit it is a good batch. I will bake 5 more loaves over the course of the next few days to use up the last of my overgrown calf size zucchini. I sent one loaf this morning to the office with Scott. I am sure to get a text by noon for the recipe. It is just a good one. I love to freeze extra sweet breads so I can bring them to people’s homes for dessert with vanilla ice cream or berries with fresh cream. I look forward to the right time when I can take them out the night before to defrost so my out-of-town guests can savor the summer with me over hot coffee while we catch up. These things for some reason bring me back to myself and this full life we have built here in Maryland on this sacred land. I am home and the smell of it is deep in my nose, soft on my tongue and gentle in my heart. Slowly and deliciously I take a long sip from the garden hose before turning it off and then all at once I am found.