I didn't know I was going to the garden to cry.
I could have put it together of course, but I didn’t go out there to think. I went out there to do a job - to harvest the veggies I’ve been ignoring all week. The ones I address every evening as I walk by on my way to bring the puppy girls in from the pasture promising I’ll take time the following morning to get them collected before time marches them past their prime.
Veggies have a prime, just like people. It doesn’t take as long to get to it, but they have one.
Unlike all the times I sprinkled well-intentioned lies to my aging vegetation in passing as the girls hurried me (I like to pretend I’m walking them, but put them together and at 6 months old they nearly outweigh me already) toward the supper bowl and clean straw bed, this night I grabbed a couple of bags and made a special trip to the garden with the sole purpose of collecting veggies.
Well, maybe there was something else, but I didn’t know I was going to the garden to cry.
When I consider what similar gardeners ponder while working in similar gardens on similar evenings across America I assume most of them are reminded of people. People who taught them to garden, grandparents who planted for survival, parents who planted for fun, kids who planted because it’s fun to dig in the dirt (before they grew up and realized they were too cool to dig in the dirt with parents)(for the record I will never be too cool to dig in the dirt with ANYONE), or spouses who have moved on for whatever reasons spouses move on.
On this particularly lovely journey through the jungle (as Brian refers to our tomato patch - I’m unable to grow normal tomatoes in normal rows at normal intervals) I was struck by the absence of my favorite gardening partner.
You may recall a piece I wrote last year about “firsts” - wondering if we pay enough tribute to the firsts in our lives, particularly the firsts that occur after losing the ones we love. I thought my firsts were over. Turns out I missed one.
Much like the five pound cucumber hiding in plain sight among the vines you’ve already cleaned and cleared, this first should have been pretty obvious. It wasn’t, and the recognition of my first harvest without Toby was as bittersweet as the red berries growing on mom’s fence each fall.
It was bitter because I didn’t see it coming. Memories can be unfair, like that. Sneaking up on you without giving you the chance to steel yourself against their enormity. Imagine enjoying a handful of plump, ripe raspberries when you realize one of them wasn’t as ready as the others. Yup - that kind of bitter.
It was also sweet. In fact it was mostly sweet. Sweet because I own the memories of the coolest puppy dog ever. Sweet like the snap peas I caught Toby stealing from my harvest basket the first year he was old enough to hang out in the garden with me. Sweet like the corn he would eat off the cob in a way that would put any sweet-corn-eating pro to shame.
When tomatoes begin to turn midsummer it’s easy to miss the first few that begin to show color and approach the correct level of doneness. Not for Toby, he didn’t miss one. His nose would lead him right to the very first ripe tomatoes in the jungle and he would nudge one gently until I caught up to pluck it so we could share it right off the vine. Are dogs supposed to like tomatoes?
The year of our best garden yield, the bounty spilled in colorful waves across our kitchen floor as I worked to find ways to use, store, share, and enjoy it all. Toby surveyed the treasure and followed his nose to the produce that met his discerning palate, then carefully hurried it away to enjoy at his leisure.
Toby was a marvel at the art of weeding. I’m not sure where he learned the difference between squash vines and morning glories run amok, but he had learned it well.
Warming soil in mid spring that welcomes gardeners from hibernation as winter sighs her last frigid grasp across the ground will always make me think of my friend Jenny. The joy with which she welcomes the task of planning, planting, and loving her garden would inspire the staunchest carnivore to take up a spade and plant the seeds of the season. I try to channel her love for the task when the heavy work of beginning a garden is finally at hand, and I’m able to do so with about half the enthusiasm she exudes. I promise you it’s infectious, but not many can keep up with that girl when she’s on a mission.
But the midsummer and fall garden - the harvest - that will always belong to Toby.
Toby would have been 12 tomorrow. That’s the part I shoulda seen coming. It’s not like I didn’t know what day it is. It’s not like I didn’t think of him today - I do every day in lots of little ways. If I’d seen it coming I maybe could have steeled myself against the memories. I maybe would have shed fewer tears in the potato patch.
But the moments in life that heal us best are the ones we don’t see coming.
I didn’t know I was going to the garden to cry, but I bet Toby did.
Tucker (pomeranian) is an author of marginal famou'nicity. Catch his Tucker Tuesday farm pupdates here and on the Toby Way Farm facebook page.