Let the Joy Be in the Doing
By Don Staheli

There is hardly anything better to eat than fresh garden vegetables. You don’t pick them until they’re ripe and ready to be tasted. Then, the quicker they go from garden to dinner table the better. It’s only natural that a few don’t even make it to the table but are savored right from the pod, stock, or stem. Delicious.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune when our neighbor Tom asked us to share with his family their sizeable garden plot. Tom was raised making plants grow and taught biology and horticulture at the local high school. He really knew how to get the most out of a tomato vine and a cornstalk.

Speaking of corn, that was one of Tom’s specialties. He knew just which variety could reach its potential in the local soil. He knew just when to plant it and how to care for it so the corn would be sweet. I could taste it already.

Tom had a small farm located about a mile from our home. It was mostly a hobby for him, but he had some cows, a few pigs, and the large garden plot.

The garden consisted of about twelve rows nearly 100 feet long. That’s a lot of garden! It didn’t take me long to understand why Tom was so willing to bring us in on the operation. The agreement was that he would supply the land, the tools, the seed, and the fertilizer (actually the cows offered most of that), and I would take charge of most of the weeding and a good deal of the irrigation.

Keeping that much garden free of weeds and well watered is not easy; it takes a lot of time.

Nearly every Saturday morning during the growing season I was in the garden, hoe in hand, working up blisters on my city-slicker palms. I loved it and did a pretty good job, except for the time I rooted up Tom’s prize peppers. Hey, they looked like weeds to me!

It was so great to watch the plants grow, nurse them along, and anticipate the harvest. Ah, the harvest. We had peas, tomatoes, potatoes, squash of several varieties, pumpkins, hot, medium, and cold peppers, and corn. Six rows of sweet corn, rising right up to the elephant’s eye and creating visions in our heads of bright yellow ears, hot, succulent, and dripping with butter.

The dream of such eating pleasure made all the weeding well worth it. Even when hoeing in the heat with the mosquitoes buzzing and biting, sweat stinging my eyes and corn pollen allergies threatening to clog every opening for my very breath, it was worth it. The corn would make all the work worth it.

One late Friday evening Tom stopped by with the good news. The corn is ready, he declared, and it’s wonderful. Great! We really had a good crop. I planned to pick enough the next morning to allow for a sweet corn overdose by all interested parties. I had worked for it. We would enjoy it.

As the sun rose on Saturday morning, I had no desire to stay in bed. On with my work boots and off to the farm. I could almost hear the corn calling.

As I drove up to the garden plot my heart raced with almost gluttonous anticipation. But wait. Just a minute. What in the… Where’s the corn? It was gone. All six rows had disappeared.

I raced from the car to the scene of the crime. And a crime it was. Six long rows of beautiful sweet corn, the object of my toil, the subject of my epicurean lust, all gone. Only a few shredded stalks remained and here an ear and there an ear, trampled into the ground.

Tom’s cows had gotten out in the night and the whole herd headed directly for the corn patch. It seems cornstalks and the fresh ears they carry are like candy to a cow. They had beaten us to the feast and left nothing in their tracks but tracks.

What a waste and a terrible disappointment. I picked up an overripe tomato and threw it in the direction of the cow corral, now safely holding its charges. Rotten cows, I whispered through clenched teeth. One of them looked my way, calmly chewing her cud. Probably chewing on sweet corn. I kicked a pumpkin and slapped at a pea vine in total frustration. And then I began to laugh.

I laughed all the way home. The whole family laughed as we pictured the herd in their midnight raid of our corn patch. We figured they must have overheard Tom say the time was right for picking and then plotted their escape from the corral. How hilarious that we should work so hard and then, just before our culinary triumph, have the cows steal it all like bovine burglars. Well, I hope they enjoyed it. We bought a few ears from the local grocer and enjoyed some good corn anyway.

At the end of the season, Tom and I plowed under the remains of the vegetation and prepared the ground for next year. We chuckled a bit over the loss of the sweet corn, but remembered fondly the other wonderful fruits of this special garden plot, all to be enjoyed again next year.

I looked forward to another planting, to another season of irrigating, weeding, and longing for fresh-tasting produce. I realized that working in the soil really does renew a person’s soul. Dirt beneath your fingernails is somehow cleansing. A few calluses on the palms of your hands will ward off hopelessness and teach the powerful lessons associated with the law of the harvest.

It didn’t matter that we had no corn.

The lasting joy of most worthwhile work
is not in the having, but in the doing.

2006 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.