Garden of Friendships
It’s the summer of squash, of parenting the cucumber seedlings I started back in March. The instructions on the seed packets said approximately 70 days to harvest, but I know the turbulence of the last 120 will have the first fruits radiating. Hopefully.
Loup had his toes deep in the soil, a pickaxe in hand, when I finally took my own shoes off. His extensive knowledge of the flora and fauna of our hometown was beyond impressive, and I wanted to surprise him with a full-fledged garden, wanted to see his reaction with my first gardening attempt since growing bean sprouts in the first grade. I knew it would take work, but I wanted to show him I was capable despite my ignorance towards all things green and blooming. And then I showed him the tiny plot in which I envisioned the vines taking root, and he saw the dark clay peeking through the weeds and gave me a look full of love that said, “I’ll be back tomorrow with fertilizer and some other things you’ll need.” So I prepared the plot, hoed up as much as I could -- I had to have something ready before he came back.
I watched the dry soil pellets expand with water, turning them into the most reliable wombs for my adopted seeds. And then I sat, thinking, I’ll see a sprout any minute now. I’d removed myself enough from nature during the last few years that now, the anticipation of helping something grow came with a writhing entitlement. My internal parasite screamed, “This better not be a waste of time,” and I remembered that the tree rings dating back to a time B.C. are completely unaware of my nineteen years of learned impatience. Seedlings and their grandparents will always have their own agenda.
Loup returned with tools and did most of the re-hoeing before I tentatively joined him. I wanted to get my hands dirty, too, but without the dirt part. Loup knew this and watched as I stepped foot in the fresh soil with a respectful grin. I smiled back and we did a little jig, reveling in the coolness at our toes as we heralded in the first rays of summertime.
I drew little plant diagrams in my book of records, wondering what my updates would look like after transplanting, after six weeks, after harvest. I’d occupy myself with record-keeping while the seedlings sprouted. It was late March as I sat impatiently and wondered when I’d see adult leaves, a sure sign of success. I remembered Loup’s garden from last year, how he’d asked me to water the corn stalks that loomed just slightly above my eye level. I wanted to share something just as magical with him, too. More and more often, I was finding myself looking at Loup’s lit-up face as he shared a million facts about the Wood Wide Web, the quantum-like entangled network of trees and roots beneath us. I could feel the roots emerging from the earth and connecting through Loup to me, urging me to drop my own anchors, to trust them to grow here. Loup’s sketchbooks were love letters to the WWW, filled to the brim with odes in pencil and pen to the local wildflowers, the trees under which he’d lain in his twenty years alive. I wanted to share something just as magical, too.
Loup and I finished re-hoeing the garden and transplanting in early May. He gave me pointers, praised me for choosing a good spot where sunshine would be abundant, and left. A period of torrential rains followed, and both Loup and I were convinced that the plants would drown. But I bought a super soaker/water blaster from the dollar store, and after every exciting rain I’d collect the excess water from the base of the plants and shoot it back into the sky. I hoped the clouds weren’t offended by my offers. And then the leaves hit their growth spurts. The broccoli and bell peppers died along the way, but it was a small price to pay for what was to come. The eggplants, squash and cucumbers were emerging, fabulously sprouting.
Loup and I began to sketch when we’d hang out. We started sitting in silence, studying, admiring, and taking it all in before drawing tree foliages, wood grains, and each other. Without knowing it, we’d begun to infiltrate the WWW, leaving our own roots in the grounds where we stopped to look. I found myself thinking of one of Octavia Butler’s alien species, the Oankali, and the way they exist as extensions of their breathing spaceship, their home. I realized they were right, that indigenous peoples at every point in time on our green and blue spacecraft are and have been right, that the silences crafted by Loup and I were joining the tree rings and mushrooms, the tiny ecosystems that live forever even when they don’t.
The leaves in the backyard started getting so big! I’d run my fingers through the healthy foliage of the cucumber plants that continue to climb all over our fence, and I began to see that my seedling visions transformed into something beautiful free from the plague of my expectations. They’re prickly and bright green, and I checked around for signs of fruits. The eggplant stems were a sturdy, dark purple, and a closing up flower signaled the coming of a budding egg. The mid-June sunshine watched over all of us.
Loup goes out of town, tells me to please pick the cucumbers from his plants and take them before they rot. They’re gourd-like and cool without needing refrigeration. I stuff them in my bag, excited to show the world, excited to draw them in my book and title the sketch, “Loup’s WoodWideWeb magic.” I slice them and make them into a snack, feeling my roots stretching to everything and everyone around me.
An eggplant is ready to pick. I tell Loup that when his tomatillos are ready, my mom will teach us how to make salsa with them. It’s the summer of slow harvest, of mutual aid and sharing the joy of living with the earth. The Oceti Sakowin said it, and the people before them said it, and the Oankali will say it last. It’s the summer of friendship, of fulfilled love and infinite grace. It’s the summer when the seedlings for a different future are planted by Loup and I, by the people surfacing to claim what’s theirs. It’s the summer of squash, of cucumbers dying off a vine that is bound to revive.