Wednesday, August 14, 2013

High Summer.

The nine tomato plants are probably sending their fruit plummeting to the ground as I type this. They breathe through their toes, you see, and they’re drowning in our 17 inches of rain above the average for the year.

The vines are turning black from the ground up and the sweet little Italian ones are the first to give up. They’re aborting like tiny kamikazes – before they’re bigger than my thumb, while they’re still green – they’re flinging themselves onto the dirt in utter desolation. Because I am my father’s daughter, I can’t let them rot out there. So I take them into the kitchen and place the pinkish ones in the oven, where low heat and long hours turn them into the tomatoes they should have been.

The purple streaks on the Cherokee are stunning, the only real color against a landscape that still, in August, is sinkingly, absurdly green, like algae on a pond. Those purple natives are right at home in the swamp my yard has become, as if they understand on a cellular level that Tennessee weather is wildly unpredictable, and laugh at it. The hybrids someone gave me are stunted at about two feet tall, and are throwing out pitiful orange specimens that splinter in the damp. Even the birds think they’re tasteless, much preferring the small green berries on the asparagus stems.

Last fall, I experimented by planting some garlic cloves that had sprouted in my refrigerator, and this spring they came up with a vengeance. I let them stay, unwilling to kill anything that would volunteer in my sticky dirt, but I couldn’t remember what they were until I yanked them out of the ground last month. My 10 cloves became more than 50, and they’re resting now in a brown paper bag, finally dry. I can’t remember a time I’ve been able to keep swiss chard growing all year, or when my carrot seeds rot in a July that barely sees the sun and never once tops 90 degrees.

I can’t apologize enough to my lavender and rosemary, which are sulking over the excessive wet and casting me brown, wilting glances every time I pass. They’re probably hoping I move them into the sunroom.

So is the rug that I pulled onto the deck last weekend to air out, and which I haven’t been able to move back in because it got caught in the rain. Its flat weave is protesting the humidity, curling against the heavy air; I understand: my hair is doing the same thing.

A blackberry cane has attached itself to the front stoop, twining up out of an overgrown bush and latching onto the screen door, growing so effusively it’s now reached the roof, though it’s too damp to push out a single blossom. I mistakenly let a honeysuckle bush grow this year, rather than have it trimmed down to a stub, because I wanted to smell the blossoms – but it, too, is terribly green and has never flowered.

The birds are enjoying themselves high in the leaves of the oak tree, though this was clearly the wrong year to put out bird baths. Terrifying red and black mold is staining the concrete, and the purple martins won’t touch them. The martins and sparrows are getting a kick out of the pokeweed, which isn’t poisonous to them. I wish they’d be prettily dyed by the black berries, as my hands would be if I touched one.

The rose bush my landlady cut down last year drowned and died in its hole, but the tangled bushes next door are twice as tall as me, the rosebush sprouting first and the hydrangea catching up in July and swallowing it whole. She cuts the entire mess down every winter, so neither blooms. I can’t figure out how anyone could have planted a hydrangea on top of a rose bush; nor can I discern how anyone could disentangle the things and let them each have their own space. So they stay cannibals, leaf swallowing leaf and roots intertwining in necessity, fated to tangle and twist and never grow.

The grapes are moldering, but I can’t quite feel sad over it, still remembering picking bushels of the berries last August and still glowering at half-pint jars of jam I can’t give away. If any survive to September, they’re being pressed into grape juice.

The rain has pushed me indoors over a long July, and my pantry shelves groan under the weight of canning experiments with the tomato survivors from my garden and peaches bussed into the local market from balmy South Carolina: barbecue relish, sweet and sour sauce, peach and blackberry and strawberry jam, and green beans.

This is high summer.

My hair curls against my ears when I step outside, pulling tomatoes and green beans and swiss chard leaves from my garden before the first drop of rain pelts my neck. We watch it storm as best we can through the windows and glass doors, which have been fogged entirely over for three solid weeks. Outside, the world is a blur of green against the blue, stormy sky.