An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of January 22, 2012
issued fromHacienda Chichen Resort adjoining Chichén Itzá Ruin in
YUCATÁN, MÉXICO

TOMATO FLOWER

Last year a visitor brought me four kinds of gourmet tomatoes so I could grow my own plants from the seeds. There was a large, yellow tomato, two small but very tasty kinds, and a smallish one that was blackish purple. I was soon to leave for the Caribbean coast so I planned to sow them when I got down there. I'd forgotten that that land on a sandbar had no soil, though, and I never did recruit enough people to pee on the compost heap to make that work right, so last summer I just did without homegrown tomatoes.

In a way, though, it was right for the project to fail. For, the last time I saw the visitor who gave me the seeds we'd been upset with one another. It was a failed relationship, and now my tomato growing project sprung from that relationship had failed, too. What did I expect?

Still, as soon as I returned to the hacienda at the end of October, I planted the tomato seeds. They germinated nicely, each seed first sending up two little rabbit-ear cotyledons, then hairy, crinkly sprouts emerged from between the cotyledons. Eventually each seedling got put into its own pot, where for weeks each day each one grew a little. It was good watching them grow but, to be honest, I couldn't look at them without darkly remembering the spoiled relationship.

Eventually I built a trellis for them to grow up and transferred them to the ground below it. I mixed compost into the soil and the vines turned dark green, got ropy-thick and sprouted enormous leaves that if you just barely touched issued pungent tomato-plant odor into the morning air. Every plant seemed about to burst with vigor and good intent.

This week the first flower appeared. It's shown below:

tomato flower

I've sat a long time looking at that flower, its self-confident, swooped-back, yellow petals, its strange-looking, joined-by-their-margins anthers dribbling pollen from pores at downward-directed anther tips, and the long, silvery, rather haphazardly arrayed hairs. How could such a tender, perfect presence arise from such a depressing relationship?

Is reality like two people irresistibly drawn together who then hurt one another, or like a seed that germinates into a plant that grows and evolves, until one day you have an exquisite little flower? This week, with the plants outside the hut door putting on more and more flowers every day and stretching, stretching toward the sky, I've thought about that a lot. Here's what I've decided:

It's both. It's just that damaged feelings are a subset of the greater paradigm of the vivacious tomato seedling.

I mean, even the tomato flower's gorgeous yellow corolla must shrivel, turn brown and fall away (exactly like our relationship!) before the ovary expands, grows and ripens to eventually become a tomato. And then the tomato must be eaten for its destiny to be fulfilled (vanishing like our relationship!), and then the vine itself will die (die!). But the impulse that brought the tomato vine about in the first place (and draws people together) will continue and somehow, I suspect, be even more vital in the future than before.

Yin, yang, ever dancing through time and space, generating broken hearts and tomatoes so lush and poignantly alive with promise that one must cry beholding it. And, yin, yang, ever dancing through time and space, and you must see the humor in it all, the need to laugh uproariously at the whole thing, if you are to get through this life with any semblance of dignity.