Friday, August 17, 2007

The Long Lapse of Ages

“It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and invisibly working… We see nothing of these slow changes in progress until the hand of time has marked the long lapse of ages.”
- Chuck Darwin, The Origin of Species.

The grapes at the Veggie Garden have ripened since this photo was taken, and the sweet fruits have mostly been harvested by birds. They tend to make a mess when they eat, dropping at least as much as they eat, and staining the brick patio beneath the vines in lovely shades of green to purple grape. To make matters worse, we’ve deliberately avoided pruning the vine – and in the process, permitted it to produce too much fruit – so we can later harvest the grape vines to make baskets. The final insult was that the two canvas director’s chairs furnishing this once inviting and shady pergola beneath the vine have finally rotted through. Taken together, that corner of the Garden looks like the long lapse of ages – and the birds – have been the only gardeners.

Amid the shambolic end-of-season clutter, we noticed the small green fig tree with an even smaller branch that had been broken. The leaves and fruit were withering, so I salvaged a sprig to grace my garden gate with marjoram that’s gone to seed. Every time I pass through the gate, I benefit from the lovely fragrances.

This species of fig is edible and the fruit never turns the brownish purple of other types of fig. As we shared a tart green fig from the broken branch, MH informed me that the fruit is pollinated by a wasp that crawls inside where the flowers are, and then dies there. So, eating the fig means I probably ate the dead wasp. Mmmmm, protein.

If I take Chuck Darwin’s observation to heart, I begin to observe other changes silently and invisibly working in my yard and our Veggie Garden beyond the ones I can scrutinize and criticize daily and weekly. On the time scale measured by genetic selection, doomed wasps and hungry birds gorging on grapes make as much sense as sweating gardeners, clambering through the dying gourd vines to harvest the late tomatoes and zucchini.

One of the benefits of gardening year-round is glimpsing in these seasonal changes some of the slower and barely visible changes occurring over deep time. One of K’s undergrads wrote in a recent paper that the Bible “flat out” forbids polygamy. Although her theology may be as dubious as her phraseology, I love the expression. I flat out love vegetable gardening, particularly during this season of harvest and plenty.

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