An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of November 30, 2003
Issued from the woods edge near Natchez, Mississippi, USA

FROST & GREEN TOMATOES

On Monday, knowing that the freeze that night would kill the tomato vines, I went around collecting green tomatoes, to store until they ripened. It seemed easiest to pull up each plant by the roots, then hold the vine before me as I plucked the tomatoes, so this I did. However, it felt funny.

I felt queasy because all summer I'd babied those vines, and the vines had been good to me. I'd eaten from them, watched Green Anoles and Fence Lizards stalk quarry among them, I'd savored the architecture of their blossom anatomy and watched individual flowers gradually develop into perfect fruits. Yet now I broke roots and stems, plundered half-grown fruits, and tossed the mangled plants onto the ground to be forgotten.

The uneasy feeling haunted me all day, and I wondered why. Something here touched a deep chord within me. Something toyed with my subconscious.

After a couple of days I understood. The act of uprooting treasured tomato vines before the first big frost was nothing less than a metaphor for how I have conducted my own life at many critical junctures. Again and again in this life I have come to understand something that had been hidden to me before, and then I have quickly and irretrievably uprooted treasured, even sacred and certainly society-encouraged notions and beliefs, I have abandoned comfortable and safe routines, and at those times I have left much in my wake to molder as it would.

When I had those pitiful tomato vines in my hands, prematurely ripping off their long-nurtured fruits, it was exactly like the day in the mid 60s when I became a vegetarian, like the day in the mid 70s when I stopped being a botanist at the Missouri Botanical Garden, never again to lead a standard life. It was like so many times I have behaved absolutely rationally, and perfectly within the letter of the unspoken contract between the world and myself, and accomplished a change that all too often was accompanied by pain on many levels.

These words you are reading right now, and my being where I am and what I am, are part of the most recently planted, modest little tomato plant just poking from the soil, the latest seedling of many that have vined and fruited, and been pulled up before it faded naturally. We'll just see what happens to this one as my own Big Frost draws nearer and nearer.