Reaping a Harvest We Did Not Sow

Asparagus is expensive now. It reminds me of the spring Steve and I shared a place near Oregon's eastern border, in Treasure Valley. We harvested all the free asparagus we could eat.

We found the house on a farm for very low rent. The house sat under huge old cottonwood trees, with ground near the house for a large garden. The owner of the farm let us use his tractor to turn the soil for our garden.

I forgot about steering a tractor by using the individual rear-wheel brakes to turn until I was inches from tearing out the fence, but I remembered in time how to turn and that I could, if necessary, put the clutch in and stop. We planted and raised an excellent garden.

Steve and I both were learning all we could about existence. We experimented industriously to see if we could live without jobs. Steve knew how to solder and weld, and he made jewelry.

We thought we might make enough money selling handcrafted goods to pay for our basic needs. We found a place where manufacturers dumped Philippine mahogany, and we harvested a load to carry home in Steve's van.

I made small boxes from the wood, and a mirror frame. Steve cut a five-sided mirror for it. Everything we made was beautiful to behold.

Very little of it sold, however, despite the best efforts of the craft co-op shop personnel in the nearby small college town. Very little of anyone's craft efforts sold, but everyone in the co-op learned a lot, some of it disillusioning. Part of what we all learned was that we must replace the illusions that don't work with visions that do work.

Art is an exception, if by "work" we mean "provide some income." Art merits our involvement even if we don't make money from it, though it is more acceptable, in the consumer culture, to pursue art vigorously if it looks as though we will eventually make money from it.

When I realized that most of what I considered my finest boxes and mirror frames weren't going to sell, I started carving the wood for no practical purpose, just to represent parts of visions living in my mind. I tried to round out my visions by playing my guitar and singing, and by writing poems and short fiction.

The cottonwood trees around the house offered new green leaves to the warming sky. Seeds we planted in the garden sprouted and began to grow. Along some of the big irrigation ditches that served the farms around us, asparagus began to push green, very edible stalks from the ground.

No one in the area cultivated asparagus anymore, but the plants had seeded themselves where cultivators wouldn't reach - along ditch banks, for example. No one cared if we harvested these delectable plants, so we did. Finding asparagus among the rapidly growing spring weeds became a daily adventure.

We ate asparagus raw, steamed, fried, and baked, usually with rice. We harvested lambs' quarters, miners' lettuce, several varieties of dock, dandelion greens, and other wild plants.

The garden began to produce, and we shifted some of our harvesting to what we had cultivated ourselves, culminating, toward the end of summer, with our harvest of several varieties of melon. Slower-growing than most garden produce, they were well worth waiting for.

I showed Steve you can vacuum a floor with a canister-type vacuum cleaner while you sit comfortably in a chair, moving the chair only as the size of the rug dictates.

We had so many projects going, we filled half the large living room with tables. We thought we might eventually fill all the floor space with tables and have to move our living up one table height and start over.

AFTER melon harvest, we took Steve's van to California. We experimented: At 40 miles an hour, the first 100 miles gave us very high mileage. Forty-five miles per hour for the next 100 gave us slightly fewer miles per gallon of gasoline.

We increased our speed by increments of 5 m.p.h. until we arrived in the Sacramento Valley at 60 per.

In California, late summer baked the land. We swam in Butte Creek a lot. I met Laura almost as soon as we got there, and she went with the growing group of people and also swam.

I knew almost from the first that we would eventually marry, but it took me a while to convince her. I was in a hurry about living, learning, and building various forms of art, but I wasn't in a rush to talk Laura into marriage.

Like any form of art, courting her took time, and a slow and careful approach showed well in the finished form.

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