Waiting for Tomatoes

Jul 20, 2018

How’s your garden this summer? I gotta tell you, everything in mine is late. We had plenty of salad back in May and June because the weather was cool, but that same weather just slowed down everything else. Even the cole crops—broccoli, cabbage, and bok choi—just seemed to go on strike. Same with the yellow squash, same with the peppers. My entire crop of leeks politely declined to germinate. And the zucchini—a total embarrassment. In every other year until this one we’ve taken perverse pride in having too much zucchini, in getting tired of a permanent diet of zucchini bread and zucchini fritters and zucchini boats baked with cheese. We’d leave baskets full at the Senior Center and, to quote a old poem of my wife’s, “unload on friends at the post office and run.” In fact I can’t remember another season when I didn’t end up tripping over some protuberant zucchini monster the size of a green elephant trunk. But this year? I’m still waiting.

Given the nature of Cape Cod in the summer we all get used to a lot of waiting. Waiting in line at the supermarket check-out and at the bank drive-up window; waiting to make a left turn on Route Six, waiting to get a seat at the bar; waiting to get beach stickers and then waiting to get a parking space at the beach. Given our society’s willingness to allow almost anyone to own a high-powered firearm, and its unwillingness to identify and adequately treat the mentally ill, I generally try to avoid long lines of anxious people.

I go to the gym at dawn in order to avoid waiting for a piece of equipment. I arrive at the movies early, knowing full well that the scheduled start times are merely the prelude to a film festival of coming attractions. I’ll order pizza for dinner if I don’t want to cook rather than wait an hour for a table at a restaurant in August.

Like we have all learned to do come summer, I take back roads and dart between lanes…anything to avoid waiting in traffic, knowing full well that the universe is designed to defeat me. I’m convinced there is some sadistic cosmic law dictating that every lane I switch into in a traffic jam becomes the slow lane as soon as I move into it.

In truth there are few things I hate more than waiting but even fewer things I love more than gardening. Which means I’m screwed because gardens are all about waiting. Waiting for the warm weather to start in Spring. Waiting for the blistering sun to set in July. Waiting for the rain. Waiting for it to stop raining.

I came across an article called The Psychology of Waiting that explains some of the factors that make waiting so aggravating. For one thing, as soon as you commit to an experience you’re anxious to get fully involved. That’s why crowded restaurants give you a menu when they know you won’t get a table for another hour; the same reason health clinics put you in an exam room to wait for the doctor who’s busy with other patients. Both schemes give you the illusion that your experience has started. Which is why I’m so happy in February to see the tomato seedlings begin to sprout in the greenhouse even though I know full well that it will take another six months before I get even one slice on my hamburger.

It’s occurred to me many times that for a person as impatient as me gardening is a hobby inherently laden with frustration. I’d probably be better off taking up an activity that ends quickly, like the luge or sky diving.

But of course I know it’s a great privilege to have a garden, to be independent of fast and frozen and supermarket food; to own land enough to grow vegetables free of pesticides, and to have the leisure time to spend fussing about them. And the irony is, that it’s a privilege I’ve had to wait for all my life. But I just want to shake those tomato plants…let’s go already, get ripe, hurry up!

I’m Ira Wood…and that’s my opinion.