My garden dies early. At 8,000 feet, though there may be a long, luxurious Indian summer following the first frost, the tomato plants and bean vines hang, blackened and stiff on their stakes, like a memento mori. They are such an affront, aesthetically and cosmically, that as soon as the weather warms again I rip roots from the damp, clinging soil and make great heaps of tomato, bean, squash, and cucumber carcasses, with a strange, purging sense of vengeance. No matter how abundantly they have borne, I feel somehow they have betrayed me. I have never been one to romanticize the barren fig tree. I lie in bed on that first cold night, grinding my teeth while I imagine I can hear the cells splitting their sides as their liquid life freezes and swells.
Of course, the underground tribe go on smugly sleeping and fattening through it all. I don’t even bother to dig up my carrots and onions until late October, after which they are not likely to be discoverable beneath the snow. Perhaps because of their patient perseverance, roots are always the lowliest, most humble of our foods. Potatoes, turnips, beets. Poor folks’ fare.
So, after the first frost and before the heavy snows, I go out to prepare the garden for winter. I heap up the dead vines, layer them with damp dirt to speed the decaying process, loosen the soil around the root tribe so they can be easily pulled and stored, and finally turn the whole plot over, shovelful by shovelful, so that the winter will fill the ground with moisture and tenderize the tough earth by its repeated freezing and thawing. It is the end of the cycle, my last duty in this patch of the world I have labored in all summer. All I will be able to do from now on is to lift the curtain aside ...1
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