Odd Harvest
by Daryl Scroggins


I'm a back yard gardener, but not much of one. Even the dog looks on with doubt when I dump peat and turn soil. I balk when it comes to soil tests; generally I just try for dirt that will run through my fingers well without too many clods of black clay left in my palm.

The trick is to never let on that you even attempted to grow something that didn't work out. Okra and tomatoes? Sometimes it is necessary to point out that the tomato market is so glutted it's cheaper to buy than to grow. Mosaic virus, blossom end rot, nematodes, horn worms: I know them when I see them but that's about it. Some adjustments, though, strike me as evidence of irony at the level of cells. A spray made of nothing but garlic turns out to be great at keeping basil grown for pesto free of whiteflies. The fine white powder of baking soda, mixed with a little super-fine oil and water, thwarts powdery mildew on the zinnias and squash vines. And perhaps most strange, is the turning of pests against themselves. A half cup of a particularly abundant bug, collected, smashed, strained into water and sprayed, has the effect of a horror movie shown to children ready for bed.

All of this is old hat to serious gardeners, those who move through a system of tasks like a season of smiles. I guess I tend to focus too much on the peripheral aspects of such work. Like the sound of things that don't know you are working in the garden. I'll be weeding the beans in the middle of a weekday, and the sound of a vacuum cleaner will reach me from inside the house next door. And suddenly the garden becomes a secret—an unknown place amid the working world of delivery trucks and mail carriers, among a select few who are out like truants while all others are distantly inside.

And the birds. I hear them all around, societies of them, ready to flee en masse or to lolligag. Sparrows playing tag, grackles walking with attitude or bathing in a gutter like Pentecostals recalling baptism. Mourning doves sit on a wire prettier than any other bird. With tails pointing back sleekly from high and rounded breasts, they observe this and that like mild champions of races not recalled. They balance with aplomb, and when they take wing it is like an instant of sword play, until suddenly they are rowing sharply, cutting the air with a swiftness that should make a sound but does not.

I keep a dead tree at the back of the property for the doves. They like an open view and flock to it, usually in pairs. Their cooing calls trail off like a blues song crossing a river on a hot evening. I listen and work the hoe, sometimes stopping to pick some fruit or vegetable or flower I'm ready to proclaim the presence of, something appearing almost in spite of attempts to conjure it.

I don't know what killed the tree.


Please send us your comments, including the name of the work you are commenting on.

Don't want to miss out? Contact us and we'll send you an e-mail message announcing each new issue. (Be sure to see our Privacy Policy.)

Copyright © 1999-2005 by Amarillo Bay. All rights reserved.
Individual works are copyrighted by their authors.