For most of the last month, I've been walking a peacock strut, my head held high, my chest pumped out -- it's the walk of a man whose vegetable and herb garden is in full bloom.
I keep telling myself to be humble; that a harvest can turn hopeless overnight.
It's hard not to feel pride, however. After a couple of dismal years, where my tomatoes all suffered from blight and my squash grew no bigger than an iPod Shuffle, my green thumb has been restored to its full luster. The tomatoes are verdant and vertical, with big, pale green globes hanging from almost every vine. The cucumbers started producing in early June; two lovely acorn squash quickly grew to the size of softballs.
Last Saturday night, I even gathered a group of friends, ostensibly for a dinner party inspired by the ingredients growing in my back yard, but really just to gloat. I subjected my visitors to a painstaking tour of the garden. I explained the care I took this year in fertilizing the soil, oxygenating the plants, treating the leaves with organic pesticides. I told them how I made certain to water at exactly 36-hour intervals, unless a heavy rain came through, and then I was out there with my spade, turning over the soil.
But then, just when I was ready to anoint myself the greatest gardener in all of Fort Worth, a master of the Chinese eggplant and the summer squash, I visited the Star-Telegram.com homepage, and found this dismaying headline: "Farmers enjoying bountiful veggies after drought."
So, wait a minute -- you mean it wasn't just me? Any idiot could have pulled off a good garden this year?
Apparently yes. According to the story, vegetable farmers and fruit growers in North Texas are all reporting "bumper crops." Cooler springtime weather, coupled with minimal winds and a steady supply of rain, have apparently resulted in an ideal growing season. The article even quotes one 73-year-old farmer as saying he had never seen such a healthy outcrop of green beans in his entire life.
Way to make a guy feel good about himself, Mr. Farmer.
Yet as much as I was annoyed by this revelation, ultimately I found myself smiling: Once again, gardening had taught me a lesson when I least expected it. I first started planting in 2004. I've stuck with it, through the highs of 2006 and 2007, and the humiliations of 2011. And I've marveled, as hokey as it might sound, about how gardening really is a metaphor for life: There are triumphs and disappointments, sometimes it all feels so effortless, other times you work and work and nothing comes of it. Just when you think you've gotten the knack of things, a terrible disease comes along and knocks you (or your tomato plants) sideways.
You learn to cherish the bountiful periods, ride out the tough ones. Each new spring, you give it another go, and hope for modest improvements.
And every once in a while, like this summer, you're reminded that even if you do everything right, even when the results are perfection, well, you aren't nearly in as much control as you'd like to pretend. Mother Nature and other mysterious forces beyond our grasp are always going to have the final say.
So it's back to the garden, once again humbled even in my moment of glory, where I will dig and weed and spray and water and hope to coax that eggplant to grow a little bigger. That's the other great lesson I've learned this year from my garden: That even if you don't really have control, you should never stop trying.