For the late-season gardener there is no escape from the great ripening of August. The hands of every gardener are stained tell-tale brown with the gummy residue of unruly Ailsa Craig tomato plants. Try as we may to find a place of repose away from the incessant chatter of the cockscomb plants gossiping with the whirligig zinnias, nothing works. The tendrils of the lemon cucumber push open the stoutest sanctuary door, creep over the threshold, and wind clockwise around the gardener’s wrist. Once, twice, and again . . . the servant is pulled back to the garden.
The Steller’s jays herald the surge of ripe fruit. Outside the garden, tiny finches hang upside down on the long stalks of timothy grass, swallowing the fattened grain. The plants of full summer groan under the burden of swollen seed. Kokopelli, the South American god of fertility, culture, good fortune, and music, blows open the gate of summer with his old tune Kokopelli, the humpbacked flute player, carrying a sack full of seed. His flute splits granite, showing white seeds in the heart—of the rock. No wonder the August gardener is summoned. All gardeners belong to Kokopelli, and the seeds of every garden yearn to be harvested in the belly of his sack.
In these times, it is a radical and primary act for the gardener to grow and gather seed. Seed is sacred, not a private resource to be owned and patented. Seed belongs to the commons, a gift from nature. The gardener gardens for the sake of a handful of seed. It is the work of every gardener to gather, thresh, and winnow the seeds of summer when Kokopelli blows his flute.
Wherever you live, you can participate in the call to grow and protect the seed resources of the earth. Choose a plant you love. If this plant is already growing in your garden, let it finish its cycle and go to seed. Track this plant with lively mindfulness, like the Steller’s jays studying the burnished ripening of Cox’s orange pippin apples. Before the first hoar frost of October whitens your garden, harvest the seeds of Indian summer. Protect these seeds and keep them dry and cool for next growing season.
If you don’t have a garden, it is never too late to start. Next spring, begin small. A five-gallon bucket can hold Paradise. Poke holes in the bottom. Gather some good earth and plant your seeds in this soil. Water so that the soil will dry out, and when it is dry, water again. With your fistful of seed you join the long lineage of gardeners. The first Italian immigrants to Ellis Island came to the New World with lines of Sicilian tomatoes sewn into the seams of their socks. When Swedish settlers arrived in Northern Minnesota, they carried with them seeds of their prized brown bean, bred for generations to endure the early, chance frosts of the north country.
In the Green Gulch garden, this season we are growing a young bo tree, Ficus religiosus, started from seed carried back from Bodhgaya more than ten years ago. For the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima, we sowed seed of the aogiri tree,Paulownia tomentosa, a plant that survived the inferno of the atomic bomb. Today the Aogiri seedlings are six inches tall and thriving. They stand next to tender limestone lettuce and succulent weeds of the western seashore, plants with a life cycle of only 60 days. When I water these plants first thing every morning, Kokopelli’s music swells out over the ripening August garden.
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