Melancholy surges in my chest as I walk the row of sugar snap peas. They are senescing, finally, yellowed from the ground upward until only the tops remain crisply green. These peas, often confined to June, have astounded me all summer. Now, some straggling peas decorate these green borders, less sweet than they had been, but still trying. I munch them like the last taste of summer.
I shake my head at myself, feeling maudlin amidst the roaring vegetation. Behind me, the tomato plants weigh heavily with fruit, despite having lost their lower leaves to blight during our wet early summer. If they decide to ripen more than two at a time, we’ll can them. For now, Sam brings me one, and we take turns biting into its warm flavorful flesh, juice on our chins.
Our corn stands tasseled and proud, loaded with ears that bow my head at suppertime. Their tender sweetness echoes my Lancaster, Pennsylvania childhood, when my parents invited a yard full of friends and relatives to help freeze one hundred dozen ears. We’d perch on the blue pickup truck, piled high with corn—the husking and talking, all covered with cornsilk. Water steamed in canners to cook the corn; the hose ran all day to cool it. Women in Mennonite dresses or shorts, all sat on lawn chairs with knees slightly spread to hold pans as they sliced sharp knives upwards past the flesh of their thumbs. Corn fell from the cobs in long train-track pieces, snatched from the pans by those of us too young for knives, but attuned to the taste of everyone working together.
How can I feel anything but delight, here in this garden, with the sunflowers waving against this sky? Pollinators attend these wide yellow and orange-brown faces. Bees have thighs thunderous with pollen. They draw me away—I’ll blame them for my tendency to gape at the flowers—from picking cucumbers.
The cucumbers! Our newly built shelves in the basement hold pints and quarts of pickled cucumbers—dills, spicy dills, garlicky dills, spicy bread and butters, sweet gherkins, spicy pickle relish. The gherkins are actually semi-sweet, since I miscalculated and added half the required sugar, leaving them with a satisfying tang.
We’ve pickled in the evenings, mostly after 10 pm. We finished in the wee hours on August 13, at the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. Feeling saturated in salt and vinegar, we walked out into the cool darkness and watched the Northeast. A couple of green frogs played their rubber bands in the ditch across the road. Meteors wisped and seared across the sky above the snoozing sunflowers, tomato stakes, and cornstalks.
The vegetables, like meteors, seem to pass in one gasp of awe. This year, I know how short summer in the Northeast can feel. I welcome the sweating as I wade through the weeds, sinking my teeth and eyes and fingers into the garden. The yellowing peas put a lump in my throat as I savor this brief, extraordinary vibrance.