It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken – from The Happiest Day, Linda Pastan
Independence day is over. We’re in the middle of summer. The sun enjoys the days so much, he lingers till its quite late, almost nine.
At the farmer’s market the other day, I rejoiced that cherry season wasn’t over yet. When we left for India towards the end of May, a part of me was sad that I’d miss two whole weeks of the cherry season. I thought that by the time we returned in mid June, the season would be over. I forgot that the season lasts into the first week of July. What a delight it is to see the profusion of fruit.
I like my fruits sweet than tart. Like many of the older Asian women, I take my time to pick the cherries, looking for the dark colors that hold the promise of lusciousness, of nectar. Some days, I remember Linda Pastan and am happy to just load up the basket with fruit. As she says, there are so many promises, it hardly matters that a few are broken.
Summer is also when our garden bursts with juicy tomatoes of all sizes and almost fruity sweet bell peppers. Rasam tastes so much better with the tomatoes of summer instead of their poor winter greenhouse versions. When we first came to this country, we were thrilled to see eye-pleasing tomatoes in the supermarkets. They looked so much better than their sorry looking Indian cousins. But alas, the pleasure ended in the eye. The tongue blanched at these tasteless yet rich looking cousins of what we grew up with in India. Last week, some researchers claimed to have understood why this is so.
A group of researchers at California’s UC Davis school along with counterparts from Argentina and Spain took advantage of the decoding of the tomato gene that occurred last summer and concluded that the difference in taste came down to a single gene called SIGLK2. From the Time article where I read this story:
“We looked at about a dozen varieties, one from Asia, some from Europe, and all of them had the same mutation,” Powell told Science. That mutation was tiny: DNA is made up of combinations of four nucleic acid bases: adenine, cytosine, thymine and guanine (better known as A, C, T and G). One string of bases in the flavorless tomatoes is made up of a series of seven As. In wild, tastier tomatoes, there are only six. The proof that that infinitesimal flaw is the mutation responsible for poor taste came when Powell’s team inserted a gene with the shorter sequence into a supermarket variety tomato genome and the sugars in the resulting fruit jumped 40%.
One more evidence that the price of cheap food is bad taste.
The summers I grew up were not my favorite season. I disliked the peculiar and particular combination of heat and time alone. School was closed, but we almost never went anywhere. All my friends were gone to some cousin’s place or vacationing somewhere while I was stuck at home. My father never managed to take time off when school was off. Inevitably, a month after school began, my vacation would begin with a visit to Bangalore, almost two whole weeks that I’d miss class. I dreaded the return because I had so much to catch up on and the year’s first test would usually be the week after I arrived.
But here in the US, now in my adult years, I’ve read so much of the idyllic summers that some days I think I’ve replaced the real past with my imagined past. Instead of dry hot summers of most of my childhood, I imagine it might have been lazy, languid ones the way Death Cab for Cutie sings about:
Squeaky swings and tall grass
The longest shadows ever cast
The water’s warm and children swim
And we frolicked about in our summer skin
I don’t recall a single care
Just greenery and humid air – Summer Skin, Death Cab for Cutie
Summer is not a time to recall not of Frost’s “promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep”, but to throw caution to the wind and proclaim that it hardly matters if a few are broken. To think of Basho:
Napped half the day –
My mind also relishes particularly phrases such as Robert Hass’ “the permissions of summer” and Wallace Stegner’s “the credences of summer”. In his book, “Poet’s Choice”, Hass writes:
Years ago, the critic Northrup Frye proposed that most literary forms arose from human rituals dealing with the cycle of seasons. Comedy, he argued, arose from the fertility rituals associated with spring, tragedy from scapegoat and expiation rituals to clear the spent fields from lingering bad luck and uneasy spirits after the fall harvest. … It’s a vision of a vision of literature, and the moods of human life, turning on the wheel of the seasons.
And to me, summer will always be the memory of Maya falling in love with verse. I remember the lazy day when I lay in the garden reading Hass’ Poet’s Choice as a year and a half old Maya played in the sand pit. I read her this poem. She stopped what she was doing, came sat next to me and asked me to read it to her again:
When the light, late in the afternoon, pauses among
the highest branches of the highest trees,
they stir a little as if in pleasure. Light and a passing breeze
become one and the same, a caress. Then the lower branches,
leaves or needles in shadow, take up the lilt
of that response, their green with its hint of blue forming
what, if it were a sound, could be called
a chord with the almost yellow of those
the sunlight tarries with – In Summer, Denise Levertov