Barefooted and pigtailed, the little girl stood in the weeds by a dusty roadside. She was selling watermelons at a makeshift sawhorse table. I thought to myself that I was once that little girl – even though I never sold watermelons by the roadside – and so I went back to buy one – because, somehow, I know how it is to watch the cars go by. And somehow, I know how it is to be a farmer. Maybe it is because I have extrapolated from my gardening-self, or maybe my universal-self is remembering what it means to grow food and to try to live on the selling of it.
I have watched the seedlings uncurl and reach for the light. I have observed the serrated clusters of leaves, tender and pale, appear, cradled in the robust cotyledon. On the crown of my head, I have tested the intensity of the sun's heat. I have coaxed the water rivulets in the furrows, and have watched the earth grow dark with moisture. I have worked until dusk.
I also have also known the pathos of trying to sell something – and the triumph. I buy three watermelons from the little girl and ask, “Are they sweet?”
“Sweet and juicy.” She adds, “and crisp,” as if prompted.
I say, “You ought to have a sign,” and am immediately sorry for that comment since she looks as if she has been scolded, but then I notice that two other cars have stopped, and so I add, “Of course, people stopping is the best advertisement.” She happily nods.
When I get back into the car, Stu says, “Three watermelons?”
At the next park we see, we stop and eat one of the watermelons. We give two away to a gathering of Mexican migrant families who are picnicking nearby. It is too hot to stay long, and so we go, watermelon-filled and sticky.
“There is something that makes all of us farmers,” I say, energized by air conditioning.
“Some of us,” says Stu.
We have a discussion about the disappearing farmlands in the Great Valley; a discussion we have had before.
“Farming takes love,” I say. (Love of the earth, love of water, love of growing things, love of good food.)
“Farming takes patience,” says Stu, “and courage.”
I think about gardening, because it is what I know about farming. I think about my modest crops: squash, tomatoes. I think about how the fruits are unbelievably beautiful, how satisfying to eat. I mention my persimmon tree which bears fruit in winter. “Better than a good apple,” I say.
“The raccoons think so,” says Stu.
I am reminded about walking in the apple orchards in upstate New York in early fall; questing the perfect apple; a red one, streaked green, a good fit for the hand. (Those apples were the epitome of apple-ness: all crisp-ness and sweet with a zest of tangy.) I say so.
I reminisce: the remnants of an early snowfall chill my feet because I wear summer shoes. I yank the chosen apple from a lower branch, take a bite, walk and savor, stop, take a bite; I walk down the row and then along the path along the cloister wall. I think that my choice of an apple to eat is an inspiration.
I think about another apple tree, a volunteer that thrived in a pile of tailings from a mine. It had small, green apples with complex flavors like the perfume of blossoms. I looked forward to the ripening of those apples and would walk that way when the time was right in summer. (It was a calamity when the CCC cut down the apple tree because it was disturbing the tailing pile; tailings are historical and must be preserved. Geez.)
I say so: Stu is accustomed to my abrupt changes of topic, and he nods. He smiles his sweet smile, his indulgent smile.