ruins and wabi

The Japanese think it strange we paint

our old wooden houses when it takes so long to find

the wabi in them. They prefer the bonsai tree after

the valiant blossoming is over, the leaves fallen. When

barreness reveals a merit born in the vegetable suffering.

                                                       Jack Gilbert, "Ruins and Wabi"

I've been sitting here under my Silverlace vine, with its legendary green fecundity arching crazily around me, reading Gilbert's The Great Fires.

The chili peppers are heavy on the plants—the glossy, bright green Anaheims that will make such delicious chile rellenos . . .

and the bright yellow banana chiles that I use in everything from omelettes to pico de gallo.

More reluctant have been the San Marzano tomatoes, an heirloom variety that makes the most delicious Italian sauce. But I will wait for them, because as can be seen here, they are perfect in their pendulant beauty and promise. It will be well worth the wait—probably at least a few more weeks.

Meanwhile, the SuperSweet cherry tomatoes are coming in at a rate of 20 a day. In the past, I've simply thrown them into a green salad, which is a fine choice in itself, but earlier this week I halved a batch of them and tossed them into a slow cooker atop a fine cut of buffalo roast, accompanied by onions and garlic from the garden. I threw in a few spices, set it on "low and slow," and took off for the day. When I returned that evening, the roast was tender in its stew of veggies and juice.

There's something about the cherry tomatoes, the way they spring from the vine in neat rows—very appealing.

Earlier in the summer, I had written off my okra plants. They looked healthy enough but were puny in size and I doubted they'd produce much. But from where I sit in the shade, I can see the ruby-tinted spines of the particularly handsome pods, which to my experience are best snapped off the plant and eaten on the spot.

Suddenly these plants are booming, and heavy with fruit. I heard okra are good battered and fried, so I'll look into that, in honor of my son who has gone to Mississipi to work on a fire crew and conservation team.

It's been a great spring/summer in my garden. I can't remember a year when I worked less in the rows and yet got more results. Years of experience and planning have gotten me to the point where I sit back and admire more than bend down and dig. Apart from a week in May when I do hard labor to prepare the beds, my work has consisted mainly of occasional weeding and the training and support of vines. The drip irrigation system I put in about six years ago continues to rock on, saving me countless hours of effort even as it conserves water and keeps the plants happy.

But there's work coming. In fact, I'm in the thick of it. My kitchen counter is piled high, every couple of days, with many pounds of produce. I refuse to waste any of it, so what doesn't make it into lunch or supper meals gets carefully preserved, mostly by processing and freezing. This evening I expect to spend a few hours picking, sorting, washing, and grinding up a couple pounds of fresh basil leaves—and yes, I did say pounds.

That will give me more than 50 servings of pesto, which I freeze in 2-serving portions and feast on throughout the fall and winter. While my hands are busy at this task, my mind projects forward to a snowy January afternoon when I've thawed a couple portions and am set to spread them across a prepared whole-wheat pizza crust, which I'll then dot with feta and sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. Summer in winter, baby.

So there's work to be done. I'll get to it, but maybe I'll sit here just a while longer and read some more of Gilbert's remarkable poetry. Evening's first cicadas are winding up, the heat of the sun is gone, and my glass of chilled Shiraz is sweating on the little table at my elbow. Late summer bliss.