The New York Times ran an article this month about how vegetables have their own seasons within the usual four that we think of. The article’s author, Melissa Clark, called it “microseasonality.” Apparently, each vegetable (and fruit, I assume) has it’s own microseasonal schedule. What especially caught my eye was the evocative language Clark used to describe a tomato’s seasons. It was eerily familiar. Simply put, it seems as though I might be a tomato.
We’re all used to hearing the stages of our lives compared to the seasons of the year. You have the Spring of your youth, your Summer salad days, the maturing Fall of your life and the Winter (of your discontent?) Vegetables can go through all their mircoseasons within one traditional calendar season. Clark’s explanation of the tomato’s progress explained it in a way we can all understand.
They start out “hard and green and mildly acidic.” Could she be describing the “me” of my youth with any more accuracy? People who knew me well back then used to say that I had brass… Well, you get the idea. And in my youth, I was as green as those little apples that God didn’t make. As with many young people, I thought I knew everything, but in fact I knew almost nothing. Or at least, nothing of value.
Like the tomato, I probably reached “peak ripeness” mid-season in my life. That’s when I was the most successful in my career (and financially), though at the time, I expected far greater “success” in the years over the horizon. Silly me. It wasn’t until later on in my personal microseasons that I realized there are so many ways to define one’s own success. And so few of them involve money.
Also like the tomato, the late-season me became “overripe and overly soft.” I mellowed with age and many would likewise credit me with “gaining sweetness,” especially compared to my acidic youth. One look in the mirror also confirmed that I was “losing texture,” unless you count wrinkles as texture, which I don’t. How much more in sync with the tomato could my microseasons be?
I’ll tell you how much more. Clark described tomatoes at the end of the growing season as: “…back to green, not ripening fully before” (horrors) “falling off the vine.” Indeed. In the winter of my microseason I’m realizing that there’s so very much I don’t know. So much I will never know, even if I reach my nineties before I fall off the vine.
But Clark reserved the most apt description for last. She said that the “later-season specimen… has had a chance to grow fatter. The flesh gets flabby, the seeds larger and more distracting.”
Seriously. Is she describing a tomato? Or is she talking about my neck wattle, my wing flaps and my age spots? While I’m comforted to learn that even late-season tomatoes have usefulness, I don’t look forward to becoming pickled or fried. I’m also not anxious to have my “spongy core” cut out.
I prefer to think of myself as aging into a piquant salsa. Or better yet, sliced onto a panini under some locally-made buffalo mozzarella. Drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and garnished with fresh basil. And served with (what else?) a nice bottle of Chianti Classico. Put me in that scenario, and I’ll be content to fall off the vine any time Mother Nature calls me.