Man was lost and saved in a garden," Pascal had written.
She had read Pascal kindly: She assumed he meant woman, too. And so when the line began to haunt her, to become a mantra, it was this: "Human beings were lost and saved in a garden."
She was no lexical quibbler. She had no stomach for sparring with sexists who insisted on the old locutions and no time for penning tractatae proposing juster mots. She was simply a generous misreader; anyhow, she wanted a garden.
All winter she fantasized about her garden. There would be berries and cherries and every manner of rosy fruit. She would have kumquats, loquats, pomegranates, quinces. She wanted peerless pears and great round, weighty apricots and (though she'd never sampled them because someone once had told her they tasted like old tennis socks) papayas. Yes, a grove of them. And peaches -- oh, to stand beneath a tree whose trunk was thicker than that of a man, watching, in late summer light, the ripe fruit throb and fall. Or to stroll through long grass, stumbling on melons and swollen gourds, to reach for lemons bright as lanterns and oranges of enameled gold . . .
She dreamed of vegetables of every description. Rutabagas. Radishes. Rhubarb. She dreamed of artichokes -- plain and Jerusalem -- and potatoes, both russet and sweet. She would have snowpeas, green peas, cowpeas. Her salad ranks would be formidable -- gorgeous and orderly as a corps de ballet. She would go from row to row, and her basket would overflow, and everywhere she wandered she would trail leaves of bibb and buttercrunch.
Yes, her vegtable loves would grow: She would have a vegetable seraglio.
One day it occurred to her that it was time to get practical. She would have to leave off dreaming and get down to digging and mulching. And she was going to have to find a book with a title like Miracle Gardening Encyclopedis, because the truth -- the uncultivated truth -- was that she didn't know the first thing about gardening.
She found no single miraculous tome, but she did buy The New York Times Book of Vegetable Gardening, Understanding Your Dwarf Fruit Tree (after persuing Understanding Your Fruit Tree she understood that normal fruit trees take three to 10 years to bear) and A Compendium of Bugs and Diseases. She took the books home and spread them out on the kitchen table, intending to record, on alphabetized 3-by-5 cards, the arcana of horticulture.
The New York Times manual, she thought, was the place to begin. So she began by turning to the back flap and studying the author's photograph. What she saw was daunting: a lean, no-nonsense face, a woman who clearly did not wax mataphysical about vegetables. A down-to-earth woman. A woman who dug in dirt.
Then, taking a breath, she began to look at the pictures. They were beautiful, they were in full color, they were everything she could have hoped for in pictures of vegetables. But the text was another matter. (Oh, the Latin names were fascinating. And she couldn't tear herself away from the histories, especially those of Zea mays saccharata, the Brassica juneca and the Beta vulgaris.) As she read along she realized she would have to classify her soil, calculate the carbon/nitrogen ration of any overlay od decomposed matter, face up to something called "a green manure crop," and do a hell of a lot of hauling.
On opening Understanding your dwarf fruit tree she burst into tears. The pictures were hidesou -- she would have a yard full of mutants and cripples. A Compendium of Bugs and Diseases informed her -- in the ungentlest of terms -- that there are billions of insects in and around suburbia, things that suck juices, excrete substances, emit foul odors when crushed. There are also viruses, which stunt and mottle; bacteria, which cause roots to rot; and -- least fun of all -- fungi, which bring on mildews, carbuncles, smuts, blights, rusts.
She closed her books. She thought of Pascal. Man (human beings) may have been lost and saved in gardens, but there had been no dwarf trees in Eden or fungi in Gethsemane. Maybe times had changed, or maybe Pascal had been wrong, but she was sure of one thing. Her misreading had been a misleading.
Let man fool around with gardens.