Complaint of the Immigrant Fruit

Summer’s been mild and lovely, but the tomatoes are not thrilled. They’re out there sulking, reddening at a grudging rate while the bacon sits forlornly in the fridge and the pasta sleeps alone. One or two small ones ripen per day, barely enough to decorate a salad, not big enough to cut into slabs and slide into mayonnaise.

future blt's

future blt’s

Tomatoes want heat. They remember their domestication by Aztec farmers, the tropical, pouring sunlight they were bred for; they have forgotten the cool mountain home of their ancestors in the Andes, where tomatoes still grow wild on tangled vines. Tomatl, said the Aztecs, close enough to understand in Michigan today. What cooler word did the Inca have for them? Give them summer heat and they distill its flavor into red flesh, summer in a thin, flaming skin. Imagine how it burst on the tongue of the first Italian chef bold enough to try it, in the kitchen of a Medici perhaps, when Europe thought it was poisonous. Tomatoes were found to need no antidote. My tomatoes are moping, but they will come through. It’s just going to take a little longer than usual.

Men In Trucks

They varied in age, size, and attitude. So did the men. There were twelve men, one huge dumptruck, two bobcat loaders, a roller, two pickups with trailers to carry the bobcats and roller, and the huge paving machine itself, like something out of Hieronymus Bosch, or at least Dante’s Inferno. The dumptruck fed lumpy black chunks into the paver and a smooth, black, steaming driveway appeared beneath and emerged behind it. Men not running the machines tended the edges with shovels and strange long-handled tools.  There was a burnt reek in the air.

They had already ripped up the old, crumbly asphalt from the driveway, laid down gravel, and rolled out a first layer of new pavement while I was busy elsewhere. The lavender and thyme once draped so gracefully over the edge of the asphalt, softening it, were cut back, prepped for surgery. Now I was here to watch the final layer go on.

The men and the trucks worked together seamlessly, and wordlessly for the most part, since the machinery made enough noise for all participants. My cat had already lit out for a quieter territory, but I was sure if my grandson were here he’d be fascinated by the whole thing. My kids, at that age, would have wanted to get out in the middle of it, directing traffic. I was fascinated by it myself.

Because this is truly human stuff: how we have extended our puny strength to rock-moving, road-building proportions. True, this has led us to some big mess-ups on our planet. But we can imagine and follow a plan of both brute force and intricacy, moving tonnage while placing 45-degree bevelled edges exactly where the lavender and thyme stop. Maybe we can learn to fix our planetary mess-ups. How many have to agree before we can start?