The stems and vines are withered, but the fruit holds on. Like the last of the season’s tomatoes, and peppers round as a globe just knew that this week of unseasonable warmth was coming and they’d have an excuse to reach their peak.
“The frost won’t get to me.” They reassure, holding tight to the vine of life. “We know what’s on it’s way. Be patient with us.” And like knowing, instinctively, that life just needs an outlet no matter if it’s alive in the flesh or in a plant, I wait, sitting back on my heels to watch, and to hope.
Because these vines have rewarded me profusely this year. And I am so grateful for their bounty. And with that, I will watch, I will water under the warmth of October sun and I will carefully trim the battered and split tops of the ripe tomato away to reveal the sweetness of sugared flesh underneath. A thin grind of fresh black pepper and my mouth tells me, without a doubt that I was right to practice patience.
But it tugs at me and I am tired. Tired of dirt and weeds, and of walking the compost bucket out to the garden again and again. I’m tired of watering and bugs and grasshoppers that leap up in front of me as I make my way to the yard and yet, I’m sad that I’m tired of this all because I can’t imagine anything better in life than a garden, lush with life in plant and animal, where sleepy cats lay beneath bush heavy with leafy shade and butterflies flit carelessly, chasing the bumblebee so thick with pollen. But it still tugs at me. It’s October. It’s time to shut down and to stop. It’s the cycle of seasons that’s ingrained over 47 years and I can’t stop it, even as Indian Summer blazes on my skin and burns it, tender and sharp like pins. The vines are withered, the plants are tired, but for as long as they hold on, for as much as they’ve given me this year with their endless bounty of beautifully colored orbs that taste of sunshine and wind, I can stop the relentless march inside me, the days towards winter light and darkness and let the last of nature play out in my yard.
Because I will miss those tomato days, I can do this, and care for them, as long as they’ll hang on. A week of unseasonable temps in the 80’s likely will be our swan song. I’ll harvest what I can, and return to the earth all that’s left; bury it under a layer of leaves to rest until next year. For more plantings, more herbs, more peppers round and fat, more tomatoes that taste like they grew in a sugar pot, more sighs of contentment.
A pan of these beauties, so carefully tended and raised just steps from my door roasts easily in a hot oven, collapsing on itself like a weary child, and releasing a luscious liquid, an elixir that sends its scent to the very tips of my kitchen. I scrape the sections in to a bowl, peeling back the wrinkled skin and the juice is whisked with the warm oil. There is manoush bread on the counter, and the house, finally, is empty for a few precious hours and I’m unable to ignore the growling belly that guides me to a brush, the tomato flavored oil and slices of bright yellow Golden Jubilee tomato. A handful of torn kale leaves are scattered on the top, along with the tiny thyme leaves stripped from their teeny little stems, and finally, rich Brie cheese.
Soon, under the heat of the oven once again, the transformation takes hold. I am entranced by the smell.
And at this point, with a warm wedge of perfect dinner in my hands, I think that every weed pulled and water droplet sprayed is worth the flavor on my tongue. Every bucket of compost walked to the garden, every carefully laid pile of mulch, every trimmed stalk and the extra ties to hold up plants sagging under their own weight, every cotton sheath laid tight and snug to ward off that first damaging frost…… everything I did, and continue to do now under the sun of October is worth the glory of homegrown.
I will miss this so much.