Saturday, December 7, 2013
THE LARGE CUCUMBER is held up rather tentatively for Dad's approval at my vegetable stand in front of Wilson's Dollar Stores on Winthrop's Main Street. Dad worked there. The photo, now 55 years old, sits on my bookshelf.
I was 10 years old and quite an entrepreneur, using a 4-H vegetable garden to rustle up cash. Two signs are on the table. "Cucumbers 2 for 5 cents." "Tomatoes 3 for 10 cents." Those tomatoes look especially tasty.
Not being one who gets rid of anything, the tomato sign sits next to the photo on my bookshelf, a wonderful reminder of a blissful childhood.
Fifty-five years later, I am still gardening, albeit as a helper for my obsessive gardening wife.
Burned out by a childhood of gardening, I'd gotten away from it until Linda and I moved to Mount Vernon and inherited garden space behind the house.
Previous owners had planted a wonderful asparagus bed out back and an amazing stand of raspberries along the driveway. The asparagus bed wore out and a moose destroyed the raspberry bushes one year, but the patch is still producing, although not as prolifically as during our banner years when we'd harvest as many as 100 pints of luscious berries.
Gardening is fraught with anxiety, where your most diligent care can be defeated by weather, wild critters, blight, disease, insects and even the family pets. We had a dog who loved to eat raspberries. He'd pluck them right off the stems. One year, the dog rolled in the green beans and killed them.
Discouragement may set in when the anticipated first tasty shoots of broccoli are gobbled up in the night by deer. The romance of growing one's own food may evaporate with the first sighting of the massive and ugly tomato hornworm. It would give anyone the heebie jeebies.
One year, angry that some critter was knocking over our corn to feast on the cobs, I rigged up a shotgun with a flashlight on top and snuck out one night to find a fat skunk waddling down the corn row. I dispatched him and ran for cover.
It was a couple of days before I could stand to get near enough to remove him from the garden. We stopped growing corn.
I also shoot all the woodchucks. Those buggers eat everything, including violets.
After trying every remedy to discourage deer, we settled on an electric fence. It's done remarkably well. But one day, Lin looked out the kitchen window to see a bunch of turkeys flopping up and over the fence to chow down.
Oh, if only I could have videotaped her, running across the lawn, waving her arms and screeching at those very surprised turkeys. They never returned.
Some years, with a great deal of perseverance and luck, you get something to eat after the wild animals are through. And somewhere along the gardening trail, I began, again, to enjoy it, although not as much as Linda.
Last year, she got a 14-by-28-foot hoop house, a huge plastic-wrapped structure that produces vegetables year-round. Fresh greens in the winter are amazing. And this year, her tomato plants reached all the way to the ceiling!
E.B. White wrote about a gardening book that its publisher claimed was "welcomed by an increasing number of American people who, fed up with the pressure of city living, are going back to the land for their livelihood."
White wrote, "That shows that publishers do not understand the situation. Pressure of city living? No pressure which I ever knew in town compares with the pressure of country living. Never before in my life have I been so pressed as the last two years. Forty acres can push a man hard even when he isn't in debt. Pressure! I've been on the trot now for a long time, and don't know whether I'll ever get slowed down."
'Tis true. Country living is pressure-filled. And I'm not just talking about gardens. I am rushing to get the wood into the basement for the coming winter, while splitting next year's supply and storing it in the woodshed.
I am way behind on the brush cutting. I swear if I stopped doing it, in five years Linda and I would be living in the deep woods.
And the fall hunting seasons approach. Time to put up the tree stands and do some scouting for deer.
Wait a minute. Maybe if I remove that electric fence around the garden, I won't have to look for deer. They'll come to me!
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or georgesmith email@example.com. Read more of Smith's writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.