This piece aired on KQED FM last November (11/8/13; listen here) but it seems apt to post it now as I prepare for a new tomato season. Yes, there will be Brandywines!
It bleeds onto my plate, red rivulets of summer at once sweet and sad, prideful and forlorn, beloved and feared. I felt it as the long knife, serrated and aware, met tender sleeping flesh, and had to stop myself from crying out–wait, it isn’t time to go, not yet!
The last Brandywine is always thus, met with longing and with dread in equal parts. When I walk among the vines in late October, I never want to see the truth I know is lurking there, between the pungent, furry leaves: this one is the last, the last until another turn around the sun goes by, the last until another crop of fawns has lost their spots, the last until the bees awake and swarm and swoon with all the songs of summer.
The last one, despite the heavy freight it bears, is somehow always the best–perhaps the tinge of melancholy fills a secret void between the taste buds, or sends a signal to a hidden cell folded deep within the frontal cortex. Perhaps its alchemy is yet more basic, and more powerful: it turns sunshine into joy, soil into spirit, and water into life.
Each fall, as I slice and savor the last Brandywine, I wish for never ending summer–that this one would be not the last, but one of many more divine epiphanies to come. Yet no sooner has the wish been sent into the world than I recall it, mindful of the need for seasons and their special gifts. Fall brings focus after summer’s breathless bounty, and winter rains demand a turning inward that makes room for reflection. Spring is for awakening, shaking off the mud, and roughing out the course of madcap summer. And just around the corner will be Brandywines, back before you know it.