Gifts From the Garden

On the day the Higgs-like boson was discovered, I came home to a discovery on my doorstep. Cradled there, within a folded bag, was a home-grown spectacular of freshly plucked fruits and vegetables.

The gift was from the garden of my friends Alan and Theresa, hand grown, picked and packed from the community garden plot Alan has been renting for several years now. Alan has also been renting an apartment for several decades, so he and his family don't have a yard of their own, but through the community garden program in their city they do have the talent to cultivate more than their own daily dinner, in a 10-by-10 plot of dirt.

It was a pure joy to gaze into the deep richness of texture and colors in the bag: exuberantly ripe, luminous strawberries cupped in a tangle of green beans, beneath which was a glossy cucumber, an insouciant thrust of jalapeno; elegantly long radishes; brown skinned small potatoes newly rough with dirt; tiny yellow tomatoes bursting in perfect curve from a cheerful green stem; all wreathed in a fringe of carrot top twined with the long raffia of a dried garlic stem.

It was a delight to inhale. Who knows what subatomic particles were dancing in me as I did so. Professor Higgs might have, but at that moment, the excitement of the universe-shattering proof of his theory -- the grail of physicists worldwide for decades -- was not on my mind.

It had occupied my thinking that day more than most news. I enjoy science fiction, and love true science even more. Science has greatness and can be good. Science can also sometimes unleash its own kind of entropy. I grew up eating Spam, Tang, Potato Buds, Hamburger Helper and Jolly Green Giant frozen canned corn. We loved frozen TV dinners. It was the age of "plastics, my boy," as was warned in a classic.

I had been aware of the Higgs-boson pursuit since I learned of the construction of the $10 billion, massively complex and massively huge particle collider in a tunnel deep beneath Geneva. For about four years now, the large Hadron collider has been blasting away at the most intimately cleaved particles of matter. Smashing protons upon protons was not easy, as the laws of nature usually made them veer away from each other. They don't want to collide. Scientists had been pounding away at the laws until they and the sub-atoms broke in such a way, that a hot pursuit became a potential.

Potential for what, I surely don't know, but it is as important to appreciate as the theory of relativity, the best path to work, and the smell of basil.

I don't usually cook very much, as I have limited time at home, so I generally just assemble things I've bought from the store; but over the next few days I was inspired to combine and cook every one of the ingredients from the bounty left on my doorstep. I made tomato-jalapeño jam, cucumber radish soup, a casserole of green beans, potatoes and garlic. It was a pleasurable break from the inexorable glare of my mobile devices. I luxuriated in the smells and flavors of food grown just a few miles from me, and the thought of the soil, the seed, the sun that called forth these little blessings. I thought about the days and evenings that my friend Alan spent wandering the edge of his raised garden beds, carefully watering; about how he would spend time there chatting with his neighboring garden tenders, cooling off the heat of a work day by warming in the sun. I thought about how much sustenance a garden can bring, in edible as well as emotional calories. And I thought about the force of discoveries, large and small, and how they are sometimes the same size.

Discoveries remind us to pay attention.

In an increasingly accelerating world, I was reminded how time can stand still while a seedling bursts forth from a nest of dirt, responding to its call.

Alan's plot is one of several in a garden created by a city for its community. The city's community garden is one of hundreds in our region. It is a public service for the public good by a public entity. For hundreds of janitors, drivers, artists, actors, teachers, and so many more, it is a world of salads, fruit pies, vegetable tarts, casseroles and gifts that give more than might be imagined. In its sunlit afternoons, fragrant, leafy and bountiful, it is eternal.

(To find more info about community garden, go to the Los Angeles Food Policy Council website, the Database section, under Urban Agriculture; or go to the American Community Garden Association website)