A Garden for Global Warming

Wow, but the times are changing! No measurable rain has touched the soil of my garden for weeks and weeks. The sun bakes down, its light glinting off upturned leaves and even sneaking into the hidden corners. While the lawn withers to a pale gold, the vegetables stay green only by the grace of regular watering by hand and by sprinkler.

All this sunshine and heat has the corn in an ecstasy of growth. I look out over the land and wonder if it’s too soon in this cycle of Climate Change to plant some tropical delicacies. Of course, it is. Winter, when it comes, will freeze the vulnerable. Still, the heat has brought on hallucinations, and I imagine an orange tree next to my blueberry bush. Watermelon vines might like the area near the pumpkins. Thus I dream of my globally-warmed garden of the future.

Then I think, “OK, oranges and watermelons are good, but what about something more exotic? Surely there are amazing fruits and vegetables out there that I’ve never hear of. Would I like them?”

Some investigation is needed. I begin by questioning the edibility of the tamamoro:

 Weird Food Taste Test

Mine, All Mine.

BlackberryBucket
It’s summer now, but just imagine it is the middle of winter. Outside, the wind screams to get into the house, spring is too far off to even be a promise in the air, and summer is a myth. What you need is a taste of summer, and you can get it without buying tickets to the Caribbean or surrendering your last shred of dignity to the penetrating glare of airport security.

How? Just unseal a jar of hand-picked, home-canned Himalayan blackberries, the free-for-the-taking berry that grows in wild snarls of briar along ditches and over abandoned lots. One spoonful is all it takes – eat it straight from the spoon or have it over ice cream – and instantly you are transported to sun-bleached August.

Ahhh!

But – and there is always a but, as you know – before you can enjoy these berries in the winter, you have to pick them in the summer. If you are lucky, you are a loner, a hermit who lives down a long, abandoned country road well lined with briars. Your nearest neighbour is beyond a distant hill, and strangers never venture down your road. The booty is all yours.

Here in Richmond, BC, access to that most delectable taste of summer is not so simple. Construction is everywhere. New buildings mushroom out of ground once blessed with waist-high grasses, rust-and-emerald pheasants, and sprawls of Himalayan blackberry vines. Three times over the last five years, I have lost prime picking patches to the scourge of those who must tidy wild things. Improvement, they call it.

As more good patches vanish, competition for the remaining blackberries rears its thorny little head. On the happy side, most people can’t be bothered to leave their ceiling-fanned couches or their air-conditioned autos to pick this crop. On the unhappy side, those who are willing to take on the August heat are ferociously keen.

Accessible blackberry patches grow on public land for all to see, so there’s no way to claim ownership of a good patch. You either get to the fruit before everyone else, or you get no fruit. Every year, as the season approaches, I plot my strategy, and check the progress of the ripening. My specialty is getting to the patch when it first ripens – before anyone else has noticed the vanguard fruits have turned from red to black.

Come with me as I head to my neighbourhood briar patch. It’s early in the morning, and I’m ready to glare down any intruders in my patch. Clearly, I have perfected my glare; this morning the brambles are mine alone. Because I’m no fool, I wear thick boots, thick sweatpants, and a long-sleeved shirt. Yes, the weather is too hot for such clothing, but I would rather melt into my boots than be eviscerated by the thorns. As a nod to beating the heat, I wear a broad-brimmed hat to shade my eyes from the rising, scalding sun.

At first, I coyly stand out of harm’s way and pick ripe berries at the edges of the briar patch. I delicately reach one hand around the vicious thorns and pluck out the berries, taking care to extract my hand without contacting the many curved sabers on the vines. I’m too clever to get scratched. Yet.

Naturally, the best fruit, the plumpest, ripest, juiciest prizes, hang just out of reach of my safe zone. Naturally, I cannot resist temptation. I venture into the brambles, step over one vine, and duck under another. Standing on tiptoe, I snake one arm through a maze of vines and pluck big fat, black fruits that fall into my cupped palm, then tumble from palm to picking bucket.

As I pick, the vines I have walked over spring back into position. One of them smacks me across the back. My shirt protects me, mostly, from its lash. Another vine snuggles across the back of my left calf. Both of them gently grasp the fabric and tickle the skin beneath. No problem. I will extricate myself with care when I have gleaned all this amazing fruit. I pick on.

Then a hint of movement catches my eye. My eye notices, but my brain ignores. Bad brain. Bad, bad brain.

Suddenly, a fiery sword is thrust into my forearm. I look down and see a wasp the size of a 747 on my sleeve, its stinger buried in my arm. Even as I focus on my attacker, it is already moving further up my arm and getting ready to stab me again. Below my arm, I see a rising swarm of 747s. Unknowingly, I have intruded on the territory of a wasp nest hidden somewhere nearby in the brambles.

Retreat! my brain screams.

Fat chance! say the vines on my back and leg.

Wham! The wasp stings me again.

Then my body jolts into survival mode, and I twist, turn, dodge, bend, contort, rend, and thrash my way out of the blackberry patch and to a safe distance from my attackers, now moodily sinking back into the briars. My silent screaming (it is silent, isn’t it?) makes my ears ring. My back and my legs are thorn-clawed and throbbing. It feels like someone used a sledgehammer to drive two red-hot spikes into my arm.

Having fun yet? asks my inner cynic.

Wasps are scary. Can we go home now? asks my inner wimp.

I look down at my picking bucket and sigh with relief. Not one fruit has been lost in my flailing escape from the wasps. Although instinct demanded all speed, my inner miser refused to allow the loss of any berries. They are mine. All mine.

Unfortunately, having just begun, I haven’t picked enough berries yet. A car slows nearby, and I can sense the driver’s eyes measuring the fruitfulness of my blackberry patch. I move further down the briars, out of the territory of the wasps. Gingerly, I start picking again, eyes alert to any movement among the vines, keen to spot any new nest of stingers before they strike.

The sun bakes down on my shirted back, and winter looms on the horizon.

In Defense of Orange

Admiring a baby fruit on one of my squash plants, I dream of the day in autumn when I will have a pumpkin patch filled with big, orange fruits. Magical.

PumpkinBudAndRipe

As I muse on these future pumpkins and their jolly colour, a terrible, yet unforgettable, Knock, Knock joke raps on my memory. Skip over the joke, if you’ve already heard it and suffered the agony it induces. Really, it’s been voted the most annoying joke of all time. Beware.

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Banana.
Banana who?
Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Banana.
Banana who?
Knock, knock.
Grrr, who’s there? (usually said through clenched teeth)
Orange.
Orange who?
Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?

Little kids think this joke is hysterical. Adults hear fingernails scraping across the surface of their sanity.

The joy of telling this joke when you’re five years old is to see how many times you can repeat the banana response before you are forced to deliver the punch line. When I was five, I loved the joke. It was perfect. It gave the child a tiny moment of power. Perhaps this is when I fell in love with orange.

Orange is my favourite colour, which puts me in a tiny minority. When I researched the subject of colour preference, I was shocked to discover that orange is one of the least favourite colours for most people, men and women. How can that be? Orange is warm and friendly. Orange is bright and cheerful. It’s unique and special.

The two most popular colours that men and women agree on are blue and green. Blue and green are excellent colours. I like them, too. But they are, dare I say, commonplace. Blue is a vast expanse overhead any time the clouds clear away, and green is everywhere on land we haven’t paved over with asphalt or concrete. Grasslands and forests are green. Even the tundra can be green, briefly, when it isn’t covered with snow.

Why don’t more people love the colour orange? It’s the colour of one of the most popular fruits in Canada – the orange orange. The orange orange may seem redundant, but an orange can also be green of skin. Green orange. Sounds weird, but isn’t. In tropical countries, the skin of an orange doesn’t turn orange. In such places, a green orange can be ripe or a green orange can be green (green as in unripe). Have I confused you yet? Perhaps I should add that, while on the tree in cooler climes, a green orange can become an orange orange and later revert to being a green orange (green as in colour). Truly. Weird.

OrangeDuo

Apparently, before the 16th century, the colour was called yellow-red. Not a catchy name, but one that would reduce confusion. Still, I’m glad the colour orange got its own name, not a hyphenation of a couple of other colours. It deserves its own name, and orange, as a word, has good mouth feel. You can really get your lips, tongue, and teeth around a word like that. Go ahead, say it aloud. Orange. Feel it in your mouth. Good, right?

Again, I wonder why orange isn’t one of the most popular colours. Orange is the colour of California poppies, for the botanically inclined. Showy, resilient flower, the poppy. If sports is your joy, the BC Lions (Canadian football) and the Netherlands National Football team (European football) get fierce in their orange uniforms. For animal lovers, what creature is more beautiful or more majestic than the tiger? Orange, again. And the list of amazing orange goes on – monarch butterfly and Bullock’s oriole in the air, Garibaldi and clownfish in the sea.

garibaldi

Orange is eye-catching, yet friendly, bold, but unthreatening. You just know that if orange were a person, it would be a caring person, one ready to bound into danger to save you, one ready to listen with sympathy if you needed to talk about your woes. Blue, by comparison, would be too busy navel-gazing to notice you at all, and green has scant time for anything outside the plant kingdom.

It’s been said that no one can ostracize a lone wolf. That may be so, but wolves, like people, do better when they are part of the pack. So, this is my plea on behalf of the scattered lovers of orange around the globe. Take another look at the joy of orange, how beautiful it is, how unique, and how often it is associated with marvels. And next time someone asks you what is your favourite colour, join what will surely become the new majority and proclaim, “Orange!”