Harvest Art


From Gene Logsdon

My wife, Carol, doesn’t normally call herself an artist, but the images accompanying this post could be called some kind of still life art, even though rendered with her own hands using real objects, not with brush and paint. The multicolored shapes in the basket are an assortment of peppers she just harvested before the first frost, and the red shapes on white background are tomato slices in the electric drier. Our son-in-law loves peppers, the hotter the better, and so he and our daughter have supplied us with pepper plants of varieties I never knew existed and most of which I can’t eat. But who would want to eat such a beautiful table decoration anyway?

It is no surprise that gardening and farming inspire art. The partnership between nature and humans in the act of producing food can’t help but produce beauty too. A shelf full of home-canned vegetables means food security, but the real reason we delight in them is that the food just looks so pretty sitting there in rows in the cellar. The act of laying by food is its own reward even before we eat the stuff.

I made a shock out of the spent sweetcorn stalks in the garden last week and put a few pumpkins around it. Visitors ask me why I went to the trouble. I had to shrug. Not sure. Just think it looks pretty. Reminds me of whole fields of shocked corn, the subject of who knows how many paintings and photographs from the past. Many Amish farmers now have hitch carts which they are allowed to use to pull corn pickers and grain harvesters with their horses. So they don’t really have to shock all their corn and oats anymore. But many of them go on doing so anyway. If you ask them why, they will say that the straw they thereby harvest as a sort of byproduct of threshing is worth as much as the grain. But down in the deeper recesses of their souls I will bet anything, they do it because fields of corn and oat shocks look pretty.

Pumpkins make another good example. We grow pumpkins, even weird kinds like Cinderella which we don’t even eat. We grow the Cheese pumpkins for that. One of our Cinderellas this year was so heavy we had to get our muscle-bound grandson to carry it out of the garden. So why do we grow the big, stupid things? Because, well, they’re pretty.

In fact, the market for pumpkins is soaring, even in these recessionary times. Why? Pumpkins make nice homey decorations. The same with gourds. The same with bittersweet, a bouquet of which adorns our entrance way at this very moment. There is so much artificial and plastic crap around, the human spirit yearns for the homespun and the real.

One tends to grow philosophical about it, even, heaven forbid, metaphysical. Last night, here at the beginning of October, I was still able to pick a pint of luscious yellow raspberries that we grow, courtesy of another person’s kindness. They just look so beautiful in the basket. Years ago, I wrote that yellow raspberries are hardly worth the work because they are too susceptible to diseases. A man in Minnesota, whom I do not know to this day, sent some plants with a note: “Try these and change your mind.” I don’t know the variety, but he was right. The philosophical question is: Do they look beautiful to me because I love their taste? Maybe they look beautiful because they remind me of the beautiful person who sent them to me.

The notion that good taste might come before beauty doesn’t hold true, actually. To me, an eggplant is profoundly beautiful. That deep purple color is just so stunning. But I don’t much like the taste. I just like to look at them.

Perhaps I should view this question psychologically rather than philosophically. Maybe the colors of the harvest glowing in the slanting harvest time sun quickens the human spirit in a very special way, as Monet would say. A psychology book I once read claimed that purple was the favorite color of geniuses. I don’t know how anyone could arrived at such a non-sequitur but hey, sounds good to me.
~~

12 Comments

Ha! I also love real,natural decorations. I hate the plastic crap, too.
Last weekend we had some friends come over for coffee and cake and I decorated the table with a willow basket, filled with red elstar apples from the garden, some red vines and berries and walnuts around. On the table an old blue/white dishcloth from my grand-grandmother with an edging of real handmade bobbin lace.

The apples were eaten afterwards!

Only my little son looked at the georgeous decoration with candles lit and asked shyly:
Mum, has someone died?

I just love the beautiful photo of the peppers! Like you, I think eggplants are gorgeous. I bought some at the farmer’s market and put them on an antique cake stand for a centerpiece last week. Flowers are nice, but veggies have a unique beauty all their own. Nice article.

And plastic pumpkins and plastic reindeer and plastic Santa Clauses.

Teresa Sue Hoke-House October 10, 2009 at 9:09 am

Love your article Gene. Yes, your wife is a true artist. Nothing can come up with the colors and textures of Mother Nature! I hate plastic!!! I have resisted the temptation for years to decorate with plastic decorations, flowers, wreaths and such. I’d just as soon have a humble “real” vine that grew up on the porch, that I twisted together into a wreath, than that brightly berried plastic junk. I refuse to buy anything, no matter how “cute”, that is made from plastic or resin. Just like I refuse to eat “food” that is pre-made/mixed, I refuse to be surrounded by a bunch of fake plastic junk. I’m a real person and I want real food and materials around me. That goes for plastic decking too! If you don’t want a wood deck and the work it entails, lay stone! Oh, and can you leave out that hideous plastic house siding…..I really should go have another cup of tea and calm down, lol!

Gene,

Oh yes, I have seen them because unfortunately, I’m not able to drive with my eyes closed. And if I could, you can bet that someone would spot me with their plastic binoculars and turn me in to the man. There’s no getting around it short of some kind of cosmic burst of sanity impacting the earth from outer space.

But maybe I’m being too negative about the whole thing. I’m kind of thinking that maybe the next time I take one of my animals to be processed, I could get ahold of one of those plastic cows and bring it in to be butchered as well. Do you suppose there might be more there than we’re giving credit for? Or perhaps a better way of saying it…perhaps we’re barking up the wrong plastic tree.

Yes, yes, David. And have you noticed how many yards are full of plastic birds and plastic chickens and plastic pigs and plastic deer and plastic flowers and even so help me, plastic cows.

Gene,

Well I beg to differ, my friend…we don’t need articles about plastic corn shocks, we need the real thing. Who will sound the call for future generations if not us? We must be strong and not cease our efforts until the meadows and leas are filled with little plastic bobble-headed bovines burping happily while gobbling down gobs of yellow plastic kernels, hurled into their pastures (enclosed by plastic rails) with plastic shovels. Mmmm, I’m already drooling at the thought of a p-bone steak.

I dare say that when we reach this ultimate plateau, the plastic corn shocks will have taken care of themselves, as well as anything we might write about them. I totally agree with you about the importance of titles. In this case the only title that would suffice, it seems to me, is “Move over: reality in the way of plastic”.

RobertR, DavidZ, and DennisP: Thank you all. It is fun to have fun readers. David, someone just must write a humor piece on plastic cornshocks. That beats all. But how can one write humourous fiction when the truth is so so much funnier. Dennis: yes I spend a lot of time on titles. Sometimes I think of a title so right that it writes the essay or book for me if that makes any sense.

On another note: “Meditations on a Cow Pie”???? Sheeesh, as soon as I saw the title I knew who must have written it! (In Farming Magazine, current issue). Do you spend as much time dreaming up your titles as you spend writing the essays?

But it was well done. The life of (and under) a cow pie is actually remarkably interesting: dung beetles, dung flies, earthworms, white clover, etc.
I found your article supplemented nicely books like Teaming with Microbes (Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis) and Life in the Soil (James Nardi).

It’s true that once one learns about the biology of the pies in relation to the soil, one begins looking at it (and the pies) with a whole new set of eyes. A farmer must be, above all things, a steward of the soil, for the soil is the foundation of everything.

Anyway, thanks for the article. I enjoyed reading it.

So then Gene, I suppose you wouldn’t have enjoyed the corn shock I just drove by on the way home with the plastic pumpkin with a lightbulb in it, and the plastic ghosts with the lightbulbs in them. You’re such a stick in the mud! And see, the plastic pumpkin is PLASTIC, so you can use it again next year. In the meantime, you’ll have to grow your old corn all over again. But then, if you had a plastic corn shock, well, now you’re talking.

Ahhh-your writing has quickened my evening.I will leave this website tonight with a gentle,happy smile.Such fine art…

Gene, I knew there was some reason why I like your books. We’re companion spirits I think. When you wrote “There is so much artificial and plastic crap around, the human spirit yearns for the homespun and the real” I just wanted to jump up and shout “Yeah!!”

Yes, “natural life” (what you are talking about) produces much beauty. That’s why we spend so much time looking at and drawing and photographing landscape splendor. And the beauty of gardens: I contribute each year to Seed Savers and love their annual calendar, with its beautiful photos of foods.

That’s one of the drawbacks of modern business and economic thought: that every activity must be “efficient” and everything must be evaluated in money terms. The weekend just past, my wife and I visited several artists’ studios on the annual Hidden Artists tour here in central Wisconsin. At one of them we talked with an Oneida woman who produces magnificent clothing items embroidered with beads. It is really pains-taking work, months of work for some items. I almost asked what one of them was worth – what price she would require – when I stopped my tongue and chastised myself: Why should everything be reduced to dollars and cents? What would it mean to value her work in economic terms? For some purposes I suppose one would have to. But in the context of our discussion, it would have been entirely inappropriate.

Art and beauty have been part of the human experience since long before markets and money, since before our cave-man ancestors. They really do “quicken the human spirit” and make us more than protoplasmic money counters.

Thanks for this essay.

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