Yanking the tomato plant out of the earth by its long, dry stem, I am reminded that everything dies. I grew this four-foot tall plant from seed. Back in early spring, I tucked a tiny, magical pod into soft dirt in a black plastic cup. I squirted the first two, tiny leaves with a spray bottle. The freezing wind blew day and night and it was difficult to believe I would ever leave this fragile thing outside.
Now this plant is almost as tall as me. It bore pound after pound of baseball-sized tomatoes, decorating my kitchen countertops, slowly turning red and making their way into sauces, salsas and soups. But I have picked the last round now and its leaves are brown and shriveled.
Somewhere there is a rule that says things naturally descend from order into chaos and never swing back in the other direction. But I cannot feel this rule when I am in my garden. Elbows deep in dirt and worms, I think this rule is not true.
Once I rip all the dead plants from the beds where they’ve thrived all summer, I rake in the compost. Then, I lay down the bodies of the Celebrity, Cherry and Romas, the Kung Pao, Jalapeno and Anaheim peppers, the green, red and yellow Bells. Some I lay side-by-side in neat rows like a Khmer Rouge mass grave. Others I pile high, limbs askew, like Civil War soldiers in a blown-up trench.
The snow comes and buries them. Under its protective cover, they surrender their power, leaking their juices into the ground for the benefit of future generations.
From their disintegration comes next year’s garden. Up from the chaos of decay grow bugs, grass, and flowers. From chaos: order. From death: life.