The Middle Way

Zen Spot #189 — Mindfulness, meditation and the patient tomato summer May 19, 2018 00:00

A grandfather’s backyard garden

Four rows, with thirty tomato plants each, were neatly aligned in my paternal grandfather’s backyard garden. Corn, too, and strawberries in season. His fruit introduced me to that unique specimen know as the Jersey Tomato. Insisting that a little salt was the only necessary addition to a quartered serving, he was mostly right. In a world where snacks were always sweet, this treat was sublime in a world having yet to introduce me to the sublime.

From the time I was a small child, I knew where tomatoes came from, if not how they came.

A family farm co-op

When my children were between the ages of six and eighteen, their mother and I belonged to a farm co-op. In addition to providing fruits and vegetables — but mostly vegetables — we maintained our membership in order to introduce our children to the direct connection between the earth and the food they consumed at our dinner table. The experience taught me quite a bit. To my chagrin, tomatoes were rarely harvested. Instead, root vegetables were staples — and, for me, their consumption was as bad as eating staples.

Something about the way the skin rebounds

The way a Jersey tomato’s flesh and skin absorb the pressure of a human touch is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It yields perceptively and perhaps a thousandth of an inch. Slickness can be gripped easily. Similes, metaphors, analogies fail me.

The dirt

I remember a powdery gray texture in my grandfather’s garden, although I’m sure that rememberance is mostly wrong. Could be that I never got close enough to really know the color or texture. I don’t like dirt — on my hands, under my fingernails, on my skin. From the first time I slid into second base, despite loving the game of baseball, I hated the dirt.

Without dirt, tomatoes are just seeds.

Wanting to harvest

Among the list of my desired experiences before moving to the next life, was the ability to pick — and eat — a single tomato grown from a plant I nurtured. There is no substitution for the visceral. Words and pictures will never suffice.

The spot

Unlike the soil in Southern New Jersey, which is relatively easy to break up and crumble, dirt in Southeastern Pennsylvania contains a lot of red clay. The purchase of earth and fertilizer was required which, to me, felt very odd. The need to buy dirt seemed silly. Thusly, location was a matter of choice. 

I chose neither wisely nor unwisely.

The planting

In hindsight, the opportunity offered when choosing the location to plant the seeds provided as much chance to experience the transcendental as did covering the seeds with earth, fertilizer and its first eight ounces of water. Years passed before this revelation presented itself to me, or vice versa.

Having read a how-to, I opened the loosened soil a little bit with two fingers— dirt jamming underneath my fingernails — and gently placed the seeds as deep as directed. Covering them with a care I had, until then, reserved for baseball cards, vinyl albums, artwork and newborn babies, their disappearance brought panic, dread, awe and hope, balled up like a wad of clay. Six plants had found a home.

To wait.

The watering

It took every bit of restraint I possessed to not flood the seeds. The portion of my soul occupied by a ten-year old boy wanted to see the dark brown mud divots created with a hose nozzle focusing water like a laser beam. Restraint prevailed. I watered prudently, according to directions — supplementing periodic rain showers. 

I spent hours pondering the idea of supplementing rain.

The weeding

The compulsive speedster inside me looked for the green of a weed twenty times each day. Having grown up mowing my family’s lawn, I intimately understood the astonishing growth possibilities of dandelions. Where nothing existed at 8 a.m., an eight inch flower could stand by 5 p.m. 

My tomatoes need not worry.

The cage

All living things need help. Like children, which my crop was quickly becoming, the time to take the next step in their rearing is never perfectly defined. Intuition seemed to satisfy each fruit’s health, if not my desire to witness time-lapse growth and an unmistakable evidence of health. 

Too, a cage is a funny thing to introduce into a loving relationship, no matter how practical.

The waiting

Time moves too slow except when it moves too fast. Again with the compulsions and inner monologue of a ten year-old boy.

The decision

The fact that I was waiting for the fruit to burst contradicted my feelings and descriptions herein. Following weeks of care, and time standing still, I didn’t want to harvest. The entire experience changed me, in part because my perspective on time changed. 

I waited until a warm, luscious Friday evening — made more luscious and delicious by the harvest. 

The picking

There is an indescribable feeling that baseball players experience when they connect perfectly with a pitched ball. Instantaneously, one’s gut, butt, brains, legs and arms know that the ball is going to sail a mile. The connection of the bat to the ball makes an exterior sound entirely different than that experienced internally by the hitter. One becomes one.

The bud-snap of a tomato can be felt throughout one’s entire body.

The slicing

The patience exercised for weeks had been exhausted. Unlike the self-discipline shown by other growers and buyers and cookers, it was impossible not to run to the kitchen, grab my big knife and slice. Given my excitement, the precision of the cut captured a sublime silence.

A little salt added. Wonderful.

The dying

The remainder of the crop was harvested over the course of the next week. Each fruit was a gold ingot. Too, the remainder of the plants were valuable — and respected. The green of the chlorophyll faded and the stalks withered. 

In a past life, having been sated by the fruit, I would have rough-raked the stalks and dirt, wanting to invest nothing. Somewhere along the way, however, I learned that, without the entirety of the plant, the fruit could not exist. As such, a little reverence was appropriate. And so it was.

The reverence was more delicious than the fruit.

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?