As I left home this morning, I was mourning the loss of a trip to Burning Man. I saw the culture class epicenter moving ever westward as I drove southward to Kentucky.
I don’t like Kentucky. If you’re from New York or LA, you are probably laughing at my Indiana snobbery. Indiana and Kentucky are more similar than dissimilar. I didn’t know until I was an adult that the “stupid Kentuckian” jokes were told as “stupid Hoosier” jokes south of the Ohio. But my prejudice still surfaces and I prefer Indiana. Amusingly, I prefer Indiana because Indianapolis doesn’t seem as prejudiced as Louisville.
But lately I’ve been luxuriating in All Things Cornfield. As I was driving a few weeks ago, I noticed that the corn was so high I couldn’t see the roof of my house from the road. I passed fields of soybeans and large family gardens full of ripening produce. I saw wizened farmers with handmade “tomato’s” signs and smiled for loving their simpleness. I decided to relish Indiana and its changing seasons: no longer mourning the shortening days but instead living in each moment.
Two weeks ago, my mother brought me fresh sweet corn. She’d traded it from the receptionist at her doctor’s office. I joked that soon she’d be paying the doctor with a new goat or something, but the corn was sweeter than any I’ve tasted in years.
Last week, my parents came to my house with a batch of tomatoes from their garden, freshly picked and in a recycled cereal bag. I cut into the first one. Under the skin was a deep, deep, garnet red of such beauty I almost photographed it. The sun was setting and beams of gold light cut into my kitchen, highlighting the tomato flesh. I quartered five tomatoes, sprinkled them with kosher salt, and ate them warm as I stood in the waning sunlight filtered through the corn in my backyard.
Every day for two weeks, one of my coworkers has brought in produce from her garden. Tomatoes, cucumbers for pickling, yellow squash, eggplant. She places them on a filing cabinet free for anyone to take. Some people don’t "get" it, but I see her as caring and loving of all of us as she offers us the fruits of her labor.
So back to today. I’m not wanting to leave my comfy home, leave my doggy with my parents, and hike to Kentucky to listen to folks talk badly about their friends or gab unapprovingly about other people who aren’t like them. I pouted that my desire to be artistic was going to be suppressed by a weekend of shuffling closer to losing all creative touch.
Then I came here and unwound a little. When the heat of the day was subsiding, we adjourned to the vegetable garden and started picking tomatoes for dinner. The earthy smell of tomato vines took me back to being eight in my dad’s garden. I would pick vegetables with my siblings and it would inevitably end in a game of chase with rotten tomatoes flying!
We picked tomatoes, hot peppers, watermelon. We discussed pickling beets and the best kinds of refrigerator pickles- English cukes with vinegar, salt, garlic, onions. And yes, despite being triple the age I remembered, a rotten tomato was thrown. We ate a cold supper in the kitchen, just like Mrs. Belden used to make for Brian, Mart, Bobby, and Trixie. (If I’ve lost you there, we’ll catch up later.) We quietly read the day’s paper or magazines. Someone mentioned watermelon and the men walked to the garden, peering at the melon patch in the twilight. Under the vine-covered arbor, we spread newspapers on a metal wicker table and quartered the two-foot-long melon with a machete. We ate with abandon in a way only acceptable in the outdoors: stickily slurping melon juice and spitting seeds onto the newspaper. I don’t know if the partial darkness helped us all feel masked, but with the lax manners, we also talked more. We laughed and carried on and I ate a pound or two of sweet pink melon without caring that the juice dripped down my chin.
I guess my point, if this is pointy at all, is that I found beauty in the simple things. I allowed myself to live slowly, to retreat from the concept of Big Art by Big Artists, and saw the gorgeous color that the real world can bring. I saw my narcissistic angsty pouting as an excuse to feel sorry for myself, which is possibly one of the most useless feelings to have. I realized that I could take what I saw and translate it into art of my own, even if it only becomes the e-words on the e-page you’re reading. I saw that I could drink in these experiences and enjoy the flavors and textures presented to me by the bountiful harvest of the Midwest.
Even in Kentucky.