accretion, green and inky

Accretion: the process of growth or increase, typically by the gradual accumulation of additional layers or matter

The weather report shifted, as meteorological predictions are wont to do, throughout the day: early on, Saturday night temps were slated to fall to 39 degrees, which the recent transplants in my garden could tolerate, though barely. For that reason, I'd held off putting very many into the ground on Friday. I use redundant systems, which is to say that I have several of each plant variety, and I put the first batch in as early as possible. If frosts kills the plants, I have a second round, and a third, that can follow. One more than one occasion, I've been glad to have those layers. On others, the first round of transplants went in early and never looked back, catching all the benefits of a long season.

Around mid-day, the forecast shifted downward, predicting night temps to fall to 37 degrees. That's pushing it, but I considered it still barely tolerable. That is if my particular neighborhood were to adhere to the NOAA forecast. We have, as do all neighborhoods (and even patches of yard therein) a microclimate. Experience tells me we are often a few degrees cooler than predictions, perched here on a low ridge two miles east of the Platte River Valley on the northern Front Range of Colorado.

By supper time, the forecast had shifted to a prediction of night temps as low as 35 degrees. So despite the fact that a drizzly rain was falling, I trudged outside to pull in the potted plants and cover the recent transplants—chilly, muddy work. But that's the deal: cover them or risk losing them.

This morning, I woke about 6 a.m. and immediately pulled back the drape to see what I could see. There was no evidence of frost under overcast skies—a very good sign. I got up and checked the reading for the outdoor thermometer: the night temp registered at 37.6 degrees. We had slipped the grasp of last frost. I went out and uncovered everything and brought out the container plants again. It's always possible that Colorado's mercurial weather could yet deliver a late frost but predictions are for a warming trend over the next 10 days and it looks like we're home free.

This is a Mortgage Lifter tomato, the mother of all big, honking, delicious tomatoes. I started it from seed about 60 days ago; it's now over 30 inches tall and I swear that if you sat still and stared at it long enough, you could see the plant growing. I transplanted it Friday, burying it deep, right up to its top 12 inches of growth; the long stem runs deep in soil and will develop roots along its length, making it much more drought tolerant and sturdy, which helps when the plant will bear a large yield of huge fruits.

By August, it will be bearing fruit that looks like this lunker, which weighed in at 3 lbs.

That tomato was harvested in the summer of '09, and the plant above is grown directly from its seed (two generations later). We cut this up and served it fresh, with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh basil and sea salt—and it made a meal for a family of four. Let me say it's proof that a large variety can also be spectacularly flavorful.

But all things in good time. The tomato plants I transplanted are making the dangerous passage from greenhouse to garden and there are no guarantees. Much weather stands between them and the harvest. Colorado summers are notoriously hot and dry, punctuated by the occasional sudden hailstorm that can macerate everything in the garden in two minutes flat while you watch in despair.

At the risk of repeating myself, one has to take things one step at a time and have faith in the process. The seed in the hand, the soil in the cup; the sprout, the transplant, the wild growth of June where the plants race toward maturity, following signals from the gradual increase of daylight; the peak of midsummer, where the plants set fruit; the gradual maturation and ripening on the vine; the heavy, firm fruit in the hand; the rich sweetness bursting on the tongue and dripping off the chin.

Clever humans, we've learned some tricks to protect our food sources. As a 21st Century gardener, it's a game for me. It wasn't so much a game for people until fairly recently in our history. And who knows but that it may become less a game again in the future.

For now, though, I can play at it. I enjoy the accretion of green things, with an eye to their fruits. There's an obvious parallel in my writing life, one I make increasingly these days. Though the cycle is different, as is the fruit, a binder sits on the shelf behind me as I write this. It holds four years of poems; it has gradually grown thicker, heavier; it has branched out in theme and style, in ways I anticipated but could never have precisely prefigured. And it has pivoted in its process, slowing and turning toward the earth under its own weight. I'm aware its time for harvest.

So last week, when I'd cleared my desk of other responsibilities, I started a penultimate round of revisions. This involves trimming, larger pruning, transplanting, growth, and a watchful eye cast toward development. Revising a book of poems means listening to what the work is telling you. The individual pieces are no longer independent; they talk to one another, they are companion plantings; they ultimately must comprise a garden where the reader can linger, soaking in the mingled scents, catching the light and color, sampling the flavors. It has to work in harmony, in overlapping layers of pleasure and insight. A good book, once published and owned, is a garden that can be entered again and again. If it's poetry, the work can continue to yield something nourishing to the reader over his or her lifetime because as we change over time, so do our perceptions and the depth of our understanding of a text.

A garden, a book—both must bear fruit. That's my job now.