The Power of Sports

For a few hours tonight all was right with the universe as the Seattle Mariners crushed the Texas Rangers 16-1, winning their 114th game this year.

The Mariner’s dream season seemed to be unraveling after the attack on the WTC. A team that hadn’t had a major injury all year suddenly seemed jinxed. The day after the attack, David Bell pulled an abdominal muscle in batting practice and has been out since. Al Martin strained a tendon in his throwing arm and hasnât played for weeks. The versatile Mark McLemore injured his knee and was out for nearly a week. Worst of all, shortstop Carlos Guillen contracted tuberculosis and is questionable for the rest of the season.

Right after the season resumed the Mariners lost three straight games to Oakland, the first time they had lost three games in a row all year and the first time they lost an away series this year.

Tonight, perhaps for the first time since the WTC disaster, the Mariners seemed to regain their form, and nothing could go wrong. Jay Buhner hit his first home run of the year since coming back from a major injury. In winning their 114th game, the Mariners tied the AL record of the 1998 Yankees for most wins in single year, with three more games to go.

How wonderful, and perhaps silly, that a game can raise your spirits so high for a brief moment and make time stand still.

Lookout

Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout

I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.

Gary Snyder from No Nature

Although Bill and I couldn’t avoid talking about the state of the nation on our long drive to our hike, we slowly put our priorities back in order as we spent the day hiking Lookout Mountain, an old fire lookout just east of Mt. Hood. Like most of our late-season hikes, it is virtually straight up and ten to eleven miles long.

The 30 to 40 degree temperature at the beginning of the hike made the sharp uphill easier than usual, but it was still a long climb up, particularly since we haven’t hiked in over a week. Luckily this left little room for talk, and I was able to sink into that kind of meditative rhythm that makes hiking so special to me. For a time, at least, I was able to simply be, without any thought for the day or for the future.

The views of Mt Rainer, Mt Adams, Mt Jefferson, and The Three Sisters from the top were breathtaking, more than justifying the peak’s name. A simple meal of an organic orange and a handful of granola mix somehow seemed appropriate in this zen-like setting.

Too soon, though, we were back on our way down to the flatlands and our daily concerns.

Tomatoes Everywhere

Gardening, particularly organic gardening, is one of my life-long passions, as is poetry, so it’s always delightful to find a poet who shares this passion.

None of them, in my opinion, match Theodore Roethke’s brilliant use of plant imagery in Words for the Wind.

But there are several other poets whose garden imagery I have enjoyed, and Marge Piercy often seems to me to be the best of these poets.

In describing her use of natural imagery in poetry, she says,

Some of my poems are rooted in the landscape, in a relationship to the soil and
the other living beings around me, such as the "Sand roads" sequence, "Kneeling
here I feel good" "Crows," "The first salad of March". These sometimes fuse what
I would define as political feelings with feelings of tenderness and union. As I write
this, three crows look at me from a distance of ten feet. Our communication is not a
matter of words on a page but it works. I am honored by their trust, which is shrewd
and canny. They aim to survive. So do I. None of us like men with guns.

Marge Piercy

Picking tomatoes this weekend I was reminded of her "The engulfing garden" from The Twelve-Spoked Wheel Flashing.In this poem she returns from a trip only to be buried under:

…ninety pounds
of luscious ripe tomatoes.
Eighteen quarts of tomato
juice on the evening of the
third day home, tomato seeds
in my hair, tomato skins
in my teeth, the surfaces
of the kitchen heaped with
tomatoes, tomatoes in buckets,
tomatoes lined up on the window
sills, my hands crisscrossed
with canning cuts, even
my dreams are acid,
running and red.

It would be hard to find a better literal description of nature’s abundance and our desperate attempts to come to terms with it.

And, yet, perhaps more importantly, there is a disturbing undertone in the last few lines that suggests our ambivalent feelings towards this over abundance and the resulting acidic dreams running red.

Perhaps they are even more relevant today as we watch pictures of starving refugees filling our television screens.

Northwest Tomatoes

You have to be a little crazy to try to grow tomatoes in the Pacific Northwest. It’s obvious that the plants evolved in the tropics somewhere, not in the rain-drenched Northwest. They demand much more heat and a longer growing season than we average here. It’s equally obvious that I could buy excellent greenhouse tomatoes much cheaper and with much less fuss than raising my own tomatoes.

In a bad year, all you can hope for is a few green tomatoes before they become blighted and rot. In a good year, and generally this has been a good year, the tomatoes begin to ripen before the fall rains arrive. Even in a good year like this, there are more green tomatoes left on the vine then ripe ones that have already been picked when the rains begin. And itâs hard for a frugal man to look at good tomatoes rotting on the vines.

Despite this, I’ve been attempting to grow tomatoes as long as I can remember. I’ve never owned a house without a garden, and I have never had a garden without tomatoes.

The real question is why I continue to grow them despite the frustration and expense.

Perhaps it’s because when I was a child my father attempted to grow tomatoes in Seattle, an area even less adapted to tomatoes than Vancouver, Washington. So, I have a hard time imagining what it would be like to have a garden without tomatoes. And corn. And cucumbers.

Over the years I’ve developed a real taste for fried green tomatoes. They are my ultimate comfort food. They were a steady part of our family’s diet in late summer and fall. My fondest memory in Vietnam was a mess sergeant who turned a shipment of green tomatoes into a feast not to be forgotten. Needless to say, green tomatoes are nearly impossible to find in supermarkets full of red, rock-hard, tasteless tomatoes grown in Mexico or Peru.

And, like many of my generation, I really don’t feel entirely secure unless I have a cupboard full of food, particularly canned tomatoes. Going without a few meals in your life gives you a real respect for a full larder.

Despite the advances in hydroponics, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as going out to the garden in the evening and picking a fresh tomato for dinner. So, perhaps as behavioral psychologists argue, intermittent rewards are the most effective.

Perhaps, though, I simply refuse to give in to nature’s whims. Maybe I grow tomatoes precisely because they are so difficult to grow. Each year I pick out four or five varieties to start from seed and begin growing them in early March. I pick out the best of these seedlings and plant them in various parts of my garden, looking for the ideal blend of soil, heat, and light, always trying to avoid planting them where I have planted them the year before.

Maybe I grow them because I am just plain stubborn.