My lanky figure inarguably links me to asparagus, the bringer of spring, the frill-crowned queen of the garden, the greenery that, as Marcel Proust noted, “transforms my chamber-pot into a flask of perfume.” When I started working at the farmer’s market in Union Square last May, my greetings and orientations were less than heartfelt: the excitement of my fellows was stolen (or, less bitterly, rightfully and traditionally stimulated) by the coming of spring and the start of The Season, signaled by great fields of green stalks and a predictable increase in the sale of Hollandaise sauce.
My grandfather started an asparagus bed before I was born on land that my parents now live on and tend to. The plant thrives in the well-drained, sandy soil of Cape Cod and requires patience: the first two seasons don’t produce any harvestable stalks. But on the cool mornings of future springs, the asparagus will begin its assent (a remarkable 10″ a day, under extraordinary condiditons) and call compellingly to be laid next to a poached egg on an early morning. The stalks rise with the sun as I stretch myself for the sweet, warm weather. It is an extraordinary vegetable, a harbinger of summer’s joy.
Now, as the frost of January descends on the Northeast, I find myself at home in New England. The chickens have cut their production of eggs in the face of shorter days. The bees died, mites having invaded their hive. Snow has begun to cover the garden and, in the corner of the yard overlooked by the proudly sinking shell of a ghostly old house, I tuck the twenty-year-old asparagus bed into the comforting protection of newspaper and compost. This, after weeding and tilling, replanting and tidying. A wiping of the slate in preparation for the next coming of warmth. I, freshly bathed, wrap myself in a blanket and, by a fire, sip on sweetened tea and enjoy warmth, rest, and a refreshing meditation on the great cycle of activity and rest that exist in the body of the farmer and the body of the vegetable alike.