I reach across the top of the gate that intersects the low wall outside Ruby’s bungalow and unhook the latch. Outside the wall, the garden runs a bit wild, allowed to grow and change more or less as Nature intends. Inside, Mom likes what she calls “order among the chaos.”
Here you will find stands of lilies fronting a miniature wood, ceanothus in every shape and shade they grow, wild roses galore, including varieties that seem spontaneously to have mutated–and rivers and streams of color and texture, depending on the season.
Ruby’s walkway, paved in amber and buff mudstone, meanders around the cottage and through the gardens. Here and there, where outdoor rooms pop up, the path widens. Benches of woven willow, stone and carved wood define the rooms, some in just the right spots for sunning oneself of a spring morning. Others, for making music with friends around a chiminea in the evening. Still others in secluded spots for pondering alone the mysteries of the natural world, the heart–heavy and joyful–or simply studying the bark on the ancient oak tree.
Fragrant thymes–creeping, lemon, lavender–fill the spaces between the stepping stones, long settled in their traces. Subtle scents sweeten the air as I crush the thyme underfoot.
Muted voices, a bubbly laugh greet me as I round the corner to the kitchen garden. I hear them before I see Ruby’s rounded back and the equally rounded backs of her companions.
“Hel-looo! How’s the picking?”
Ruby straightens at the sound of my voice, swipes an errant strand of hair from the back of her tomato-laden hand, and grins from ear to ear. “Bounteous!”
I buss her cheek, moist with perspiration. “Hi Mom.”
“Hello Darling,” she says, stooping to pop a clutch of red tomatoes into the market basket at her feet. The basket brims with red, golden and purple orbs, some more sphere-shaped than others, which on second glance, reveal double or triple lobes.
“Rose!” Jacob raises his head. “Are you here to help us make sauce?”
“Yes, I am. Looks like we’ll have enough for relish as well, and perhaps a batch to sun-dry.”
Jacob slips five more tomatoes into the deep, bulging shoulder bag hanging at his hip.
“Here, Rose,” Elizabeth says, handing me a golden tomato warm from the sun. These are especially tasty today.”
I nip into the skin, peeling it back a bit with my teeth so as not to lose a drop of the juice to the ground, then sink into a big bite. Still it spurts. I suck quickly to get as much of the juice as possible, slurping unabashedly.
Is there anything as delicious as a fresh-picked, vine-ripened tomato, hot from the sun? Its spicy fragrance, succulent flesh and piquant flavor bombard my senses. Juice streams down my arm, instantly sticky, and I don’t care, licking at it shamelessly to capture every dribble.
My companions laugh at me, each biting into a morsel of their own. For the first time, I notice their shirts stained with juice, the occasional seed sticking to a sleeve.
It is fall. Life is good.