April 21, 2006

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Sadly, there is no cure for Black Thumb Disease

Some of us suffer from Black Thumb Disease. And that’s a shame at this time of year when spring is springing, and plowing, seeding and fertilizing are the order of the day. We, too, would love to be the producers of lush plantings.

We put on a good front. We keep copies of Burpee’s Seed Catalog lying on the coffee table. We tell acquaintances our plans for creating beds of poppies and larkspur, and sowing artful areas of wildflowers in our backyards. We discuss the many gourmet dishes we’ll produce after harvesting our extensive herb garden. We don’t tell all this to close friends because they know better.

We buy stuff: kneepads for crawling around the vegetable beds, watering cans, cute ceramic frogs and rabbits to peek out from the flower beds. Sometimes, we really go for it and purchase serious equipment, such as mini-tractors or garden tillers. Our horticultural ambition knows no bounds.

This works pretty well until about the middle of June, when the rubber hits the road. Or, more like it, when the baby plants hit the light of day. Or don’t, as is more likely in the case of Black Thumb. Some of our seedlings come up, some don’t. And some weeds—disguised as plants—appear as well, a problem for handicapped gardeners like us who can’t tell the difference.

Sometimes, we resort to cadging free advice or even free labor from those gifted in the horticultural arts. We invite them over to diagnose how to fortify our sickly shoots, how to improve our unproductive soil or how to thin our crowded plants. If we’re lucky, they’re the hands-on types who’ll do all this for us while we nod gravely—as if we actually understood what they’re doing.

Some of us who live in the country harbor a secret envy for those who regularly earn blue ribbons and sweepstakes championships at the county fair for their petunias or gladioli or whatever. We long to place one gorgeous, beefy tomato before an awed fair judge, or display six or eight perfect wax beans on the produce counters.

Should we indeed produce a perfect vegetable, it’s a certainty that no one in our family will get to eat it. It’s the same scenario as when kids see their mom baking something particularly fine and ask, “Who’s that for, Mommy?” knowing full well it can’t be for them. The humility of the families of Black Thumbers is legendary. Sigh.

Nevertheless, we persevere. There’s something about this season that keeps us trying. We’re still in the joyously optimistic mode of Easter and besides that, there’s gentle rain, warm breezes and increasing sunlight just begging us to get out there and plant.

How hard can it be, we think? After all, people have been growing things since Adam and Eve lived in that lovely garden. (Of course, until the Fall they didn’t really have to work at it much, but that’s another story.) Surely it must be a natural skill which we can acquire.

No matter. The important thing is to keep trying. God produces such beautiful wonders with every season, and then invites us perhaps to grow in spring, or to reflect in autumn. It’s just one more reminder of hope, which is the focus of our faith.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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