Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Legend and Lore

June 30, 2010

Friends, I guess today is about as late as the June installment of the Toonmoose blog can be, and still be the June blog! This is a function of so much taking place in the garden this time of the year. Routine maintenance and weeding could easily consume most days, but I have also found time for special chores, like scraping, sealing and repainting the cast iron urn that is the jewel in the crown of the potager. I try to make time each day, (three times a day?) to see what “new” is happening in the garden. The gladioli are at their peak now, though I treasure those moments when I am in the garden with no agenda or goal other than to experience it fully, with all of my senses. Recently, I have also had occasion to ponder the role that certain elements of Nature have played, either in ones personal history, or in a broader cultural sense. Let me be more specific;
A couple of days ago, after hours of simmering, humid weather, we experienced a torrential thunderstorm that over the course of an hour, pelted us with nearly an inch of rain, even as the sun shone through the clouds. As I stood watching the contradictory effects of rainfall and sunlight, I was immediately transported back to my childhood in Prospect Village, (Trenton, New Jersey). There, the accepted knowledge among us pre-school kids, was that “if it rains while the sun is shining, that means the devil is beating his wife.” We accepted this information as readily as we did the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny or Santa living at the North Pole. I don’t know who first put forth this idea, but more than once, I recall stretching out on the warm, wet sidewalk, the better to place my ear to the ground while I listened for Mrs. Satan’s wails, like a neighbors wife on a drunken Friday night. Yes friends, Nature is a powerful mnemonic device!
Which reminds me, Last year, I returned to Trenton, to join my family in celebrating Easter at our church, Cadwalader-Asbury United Methodist, on Styvesant Avenue. Reverend Medley’s sermon was full of the hope and promise that radiates from all Christian pulpits on this day. Still, after an early start to the day and a long drive, it wasn’t long before ones thoughts turned to food, since the music and repast are the highlights of the day. Now, it is a given that on these occasions, the ride home from church will be punctuated by a stop at some shop - 7 Eleven or Halo Farms – for some last minute dinner ingredient. Wanting to be helpful, I offered to take my sister Roslynn for the ride, to lay in iced tea and fruit juice. Now, bear in mind, Roslynn had not long returned from an extended period living in North Carolina, during which, she picked up a distinct Southern drawl and more than a little of the “folkways” of Hamlet, NC, our mothers home town. As Hamlet is a rural community, (in addition to being the hometown of jazz great, John Coltrane and a host of professional ball players,) I took advantage of our ride together to tell Roz about what vegetables I hoped to grow in the garden that year, including “Crimson Spineless,” Red Okra. Roslynn, like me, grew up a city-girl, (another Toonmoose?) and like me two years before, didn’t realize there was such a thing as red Okra. Nonetheless, she proceeded to give me instructions, learned in Hamlet, on how to grow Okra. “Now Ehh-vritt,” she drawled, “you know you got to spank your okra,” she stated with great conviction. Startled at the notion, I shifted my gaze sideways from the road to Roslynn, just for a moment, to confirm what I had heard. “Spank my Okra,” I repeated, disbelievingly. “Yes, chile, you got to spank it, if you want it to grow right,” she insisted. “O.K.,” I thought, lifting my eyes to the heavens, “now I’ve heard it all.” Then, she went on, “As it begins to develop its’ leaves, you get a switch, and spank the leaves, not hard enough to tear them, but just enough to startle them, as if you were spanking a small child’s hands to keep it from touching a hot stove.” I cringed behind the wheel, at this advocacy of what was clearly child abuse. “Really, Ehh-vritt” she went on, “ you got to do this if you want a good crop,” she assured me. We were at Halo Farms by then, and turned our attention to Iced Tea. Still, the idea of spanking ones okra had planted itself, like a broken off splinter just beneath the surface of the skin.
Well, as my okra seeds grew, I decided to test Roslynn’s theorem. In my experiment, half of the plants, I spanked with a slender bamboo switch, being careful to “stimulate” but not tear, their leaves. The other half of the plants I left unmolested. Both groups of plants grew with the same watering, light and soil. Well friends, as unscientific as it sounds, I am here to verify that this technique worked! The plants that were “spanked” produced almost twice the amount of okra pods as those that were not spanked. I can think of no other explanation for the dramatic difference in their output. How it ever occurred to anyone to spank their okra plants in the first place, I can’t imagine, and yet, the results were clear. At the risk of sounding like a tout for garden bondage and S&M, I say stake and cage your tomatoes, and by all means, spank your okra!!!
So, there is all of this to consider, and I haven’t even mentioned my new commission, to rehabilitate the gardens of The Winter-White House, a historic residence in Brooklyn, NY., or the new miracle of the bees! Stay “Tooned,” and keep gardening!

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