Like me, my first children arrived in March. Looking down at them now, their branches bowed and thick with ripened weights, green through the sun’s steady warmth €”these unruly creatures bear no obvious relationship to the sweet brown seeds carefully tucked into flimsy plastic trays and lovingly carried outdoors on the days spring chose to trail her warmth along the soil, stirring their pale souls toward the light. In the beginning, when we planted our garden, we worried over our sprouting family, Nick more than I. He cradled the trays as he moved them about the yard, seeking the sun with a visionary faith in our vegetable family. We figured that if the plants lived, we might qualify for a cat by winter and eventually, human children.
Those days seem distant now, hidden behind April’s morning mists and my faulty memory. It is difficult to believe that at one time we cared for one hundred and twenty-eight tomato-ettes. One hundred and twenty-eight. It is slightly more incredible that forty-five survived that early treatment, the constant shift between yard and house. And to tell you the truth, looking about now, it seems nearly ridiculous that every single one of those forty-five plants chose to fulfill its divine destiny and multiply and replenish the earth. There are, after all, limitations, decency.
Today, like every other day this slow September, I head outdoors and greet my green children. The blue light of my office computer and the sharp spines of the semester’s books (my first love) fade, are forgotten. I have work to do in my garden. The tomatoes greet me, verdant ropes into which I thrust my bared feet, toes splayed to grip the cool soil between wide stalks and ever-present branches. When they were still young and pliant, we thought to tie them up or train them through wire cages. However, we being young ourselves, and young together, thought better of it. (This was not due to any youthful ideals, but rather to the more immediate demands of our monthly utilities bill.) As our plants matured we felt the error of our ways. Their teenage growth outstripped our expectations and left us with a vibrant mass of heavy greenery that when approached requires both caution and ingenuity.
I weave my way toward the center of my garden. I am hunting a cluster of Pink Brandywines I sighted earlier in the week. I stalk my food through a delicately immobile jungle that purposely conceals its fruit. These are rebellious plants €”taciturn, prone to petulance €”and they have it in for me, their mama.
Afternoon light hangs pink against the wooden fence and everywhere I look I see the twisting of green branches, the folding of green leaves. My arms rub against these leaves and start to yellow; my fingertips reflect a familiar (familial) green green green so green it’s nearly black. My fingers, stalk-like, feel blindly amongst the leaves, searching. I glance out over our garden: carrots, onions, lettuce, cucumbers €”these are all manageable and cooperative plants. They produce enough to eat, stay more or less where they’re told, and generally enjoy being picked at. My eyes lower to my unreasonably fertile tomatoes, the plants with which I spend my time, the plants that hold some type of proprietary claim upon me. That is how, I suppose, they came to be my children. There are worse things that could have claimed me.
I find my Pink Brandywines huddled together along a slender strand called to bear an inordinate burden that has quite naturally strained it toward the earth in submission. Pushing aside green leaves exposes the deep dankness of the inner sanctum. I startle back at the vision: tomatoes, everywhere. Pressed against the earth, folded between branching arms, sprouting through entangled tendrils still seeking the light €”pink, white, yellow, orange, overripe red. I release a branch; the plant heaves, fruit waving against the breeze. Some have fallen to the soil where they spoil, their skins split, their seeds spilt. I cannot conceive of a time when we will not be eating tomatoes. The blatant fecundity of this plant, of every plant in my garden, every plant I cannot escape, that grasps my toe and bends my knee, constitutes an overwhelmingly reproductive force: it appears both incredibly absurd (who in the whole world would ever need so many tomatoes?) and strangely holy, sacrificial.
I cannot blame them for their enthusiasm. Their insistence on living, on passing the possibility of life to others, turns my mind in my garden toward another image of absurd overabundance that I have yet to fully comprehend: outside my garden, in other rooms, I call this gift grace, and give thanks.
Jenny Webb recently moved to Madison, Alabama where she lives with her husband, daughter, and son. She currently works as the production manager for the journals Recherche LittÃ©raire and Scandinavian Studies; she is also on the executive board of the Mormon Theology Seminar and is a managing editor for Salt Press.