Sunday, February 1, 2009

Tomatoes, Poppies, and Art

My husband and I went to Home Depot yesterday on a plant-buying mission. Our garden was in need of some additions after a horde of invading oxalis weeds had been forcibly removed. The battlefield of raw upturned dirt and stone that resulted called out for something to cover it.

California poppies, he suggested, and I agreed instantly with the idea. The image of golden orange flower cups swaying the breeze was tantalizing, a romantic image, reminding me of some paintings I’d done in the past. Reminded me of bicycle rides as a kid along half-wild pathways under the freeways. An added bonus: a drought-resistant native plant so that we wouldn’t have to wrangle with a sprinkler system and pull out the instruction manual to figure out watering schedules.

It was looking to be a dry year. Midwinter already had already passed, and not nearly as much rainfall as we should have gotten by this time. It felt like spring already, and we were just edging past January. The jasmine had been fooled into flowering - a fact which the onset of my pollen allergies was adamantly reminding me of every morning. So there we were at Home Depot, in the gardening section, scratching our heads as we pondered the racks of seeds. Finally we settled on a packet, grabbed it, paid up, and headed out.

The next day, Dana admitted to me sheepishly, “You want to know a really stupid thought I had yesterday at Home Depot?”

“What?” I asked.

“I was looking at the tomato seeds, and I thought, ‘Huh. Those look a lot like the seeds of tomatoes.’”

I laughed. I walked away to the kitchen. Did some chores. Watered some plants. Took out the poppy seed packet. Laughed again at Dana’s tomato seed naivete. Then stopped laughing as I realized the thought in my head the previous day when I first picked up the packet of poppy seeds was, “Huh. Those look a lot like poppy seeds.” As in, the poppy seeds on my bagels.

Now I’m not a complete gardening novice. I’ve got my little herb and vegetable pots with tomatoes and fresh basil every summer. Long planters filled with strawberries along the edge of the terrace. But I’ve never tried growing anything from seeds.

That moment of realized stupidity was a bit of a reminder of how far removed we are from what we eat. The fruits and seeds we shove into our mouths…are just faceless supermarket product, magically engineered and appearing in our refrigerators and pantries. They have no link in our heads to a real life cycle, to a natural world of seed, germination, flowering, fruit. Of course I know how it works intellectually. But the connection of that knowledge to the supermarket tomato in my hand, or to the poppy seed Bagel I get from Noah’s, has been severed by our food culture (or lack of). Without that link, they’ve lost their meaning, shoved from hand to mouth without appreciation.

And what’s the link of all this to Art?

Does artwork that revels in nature also suffer this disconnect? If at such a basic level of what we intake three-plus times a day, there is a removal from the life cycles of the world, how can there be any true appreciation of what nature means, and the beauties and intricacies of it? The painting of a tree, no matter how faithful, is just a painting of a tree. It is as manufactured as that supermarket tomato with its hybrid genetically engineered suicide genes to prevent any of its seeds from ever even dreaming of becoming a real actual plant. What a dire thought.

Or maybe that painting can be the jolt of realization that makes its viewers remember the shadow of the oak tree that used to hang across their doorway, or the scent of the jasmine that would waft through open windows in the summertime. Maybe that painting can be the link to re-forge an appreciation of our connection to the world around us.

Only if the artist who created it had the eyes to see. I try very hard to open my eyes to see.


  1. Stephanie, I am so glad you have a blog. When I got my yahoo update from you group I was thrilled to see the link to this blog. I will follow it and enjoy every word. :)