Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Optimistic asparagus -- and a hornet's nest

Yesterday, the day before a storm that felt like winter blew into our valley, I was watering the kitchen garden. It was election day, and despite my nervous excitement, I wasn't glued to the news. Hanging out and tending my plants--those that survived the last few hard freezes--is much more soothing than constantly pushing the "refresh" button on my internet browser to check for news. It was too early for election results, anyway.

So rather than making myself crazy staring at my electronic connection to the virtual larger world, I went outside into the real larger world--nature--and spent time in the garden.

I was giving the asparagus bed what may be its last soak for quite a while when I discovered that the plants which I wrote about in a post about optimistic gardeners last May have apparently decided it's spring all over again. The two largest clumps of asparagus have sprouted shoots as fat as my thumb, and one shoot is already several inches tall. Those asparagus plants think it's spring, not a few short weeks from winter.

The way the asparagus life cycle usually works, the roots, which are the larder storing the sugars produced with the previous summer's sunlight, send up shoots as the soil warms in spring. These fat stalks emerge from the soil and turn green in sunlight, ready to grow tall and do their solar energy harvesting, using sunlight to power a chemical process of making sugar in order to replace the fuel used for the orgy of cell division that pushed them up from underground.

New shoots follow these pioneers, handily producing more food, and thus more fat shoots which eventually mature into tall and feathery stalks, until the days quit growing longer. Then the plant goes into pass-on-my-genes-for-the-future mode and the feathery branches sprout tiny flowers (males and females on separate shoots, relying on the wind to assist in the act of fertilization). About that time--early summer, usually--the plant figures it has stored all the food it needs, and its shoots brown off as the roots go dormant. The following spring, when the soil warms again, they begin the lickety-split cell division that pushes new succulent shoots up into the light and air.

But it's mid-fall here in the southern Rocky Mountains, not spring. I don't know if these asparagus shoots can survive the freezing weather ahead, but I know this. Their effort, optimistic as it may seem, is the asparagus equivalent of believing in a world of possibilities. And last night's election certainly demonstrated to me the power of seemingly small actions like cell division--or voting--to work miracles.

So I'm going to watch those asparagus shoots. They may have something to teach me.

Oh, and the hornet's nest? "The Patriotic Thing to Do," my latest op-ed for High Country News landed on the front page of their web site and stirred up quite a hornet's nest of comments. (It also went out to 80-some newspapers with their Writers on the Range syndicate.) Here's how it opens:
Maybe I’m crazy, but I think that paying taxes is patriotic. And I’m tired of hearing Americans, especially Westerners, whine about their tax burden.
What does that have to do with the community of the land? Read it and see! (Here's a clue: it's about the nature of community.)


Susan GT said...

Maybe the asparagus know that growth can happen even in cold and dark.

Growth and change, maybe have their own 'season'. Your asparagus give me another reason for hope.

Beverly said...

I'm with you on taxes...

While it makes sense to watch how they're spent...taxes are the monies we use to pave the roads, build the bridges, keep police, fireman and EMTs employed, not to mention our government running.

So sure...we must stay vigilant and watch the pork (as they say), but I agree; paying taxes is patriotic.

About the asparagus...perhaps it wanted a 'midnight snack' before it's long slumber?

Now, I'll go read your other piece.

Susan J Tweit said...

Susan GT, thanks for the lovely thought about growth and change having their own season. That's one to ruminate about as winter trims the daylight and cold settles in. . . .

When Emily Dickinson wrote about hope as "the thing with feathers" I wonder if she was referring to how easily it can fly into and out of our lives? I'm certainly feeling more hopeful now than I have in decades, and more optimistic about recovering America as a generous and tolerant place!


Susan J Tweit said...


I so agree about being vigilant about how tax money is spent. What gets to me is the attitude of those who want the services government supplies, but expect others to pay for them. . . .

My asparagus was just experimenting, I think, to see if it was spring all over again!


Beverly said...

My oh my...that was a bit of a hornet's nest that got stirred up! Well, I agree with you...a civilization takes money and we all have to give our fair share.

Funny though, those folks who make most of the money also have the means to make use of every tax loop-hole ever made...and many are made for the rich. It's not like they're taxed on every dime they those of us who make less than even $100K yearly.

I appreciated your story and am happy you included the link to it.