Learning From My Tomatoes


                                                by Neal Lemery

(Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 6/19/2022)

            I’m always learning from my garden, even when I think I “know it all”, and expect that things will always go as planned, and that I’m old and wise, and there’s nothing left to learn.  

            Well, I’m old, but wisdom is often elusive, and there are always lessons to be learned.  And, if I don’t think I need to learn, life comes along and ensures that I do my homework and pay attention to the lessons that I need to learn, and the simple lessons are often the most profound.

            The recent cold and wet weather has taken its toll on me.  It’s mid June and my flowers and vegetables are struggling to settle in and put on their usual burst of growth and productivity. Everything seems about a month behind, and I’m wondering if I’ll have any apples this year. I slog around the yard in my garden boots, listening to the squishiness of my footsteps. I watch the grass and weeds grow higher and higher, my efforts on the occasional dry hour not able to keep up with what a friend calls “lush growth”. 

            I’ve had some extra tomato plants occupying a corner of the greenhouse, with me not really having space for them in the still chilly and soggy garden, and not being willing to toss a perfectly good plant.  They haven’t been looking good lately, pot bound, not being cared for regularly, and stuck in a rather dark corner.  The shade cloth on the greenhouse was designed for sunnier days, and its presence has brought more doom and gloom to these poor plants, adding more darkness in addition to the gray clouds.  

            A friend recently expressed interest in needing more tomatoes, so I had some renewed focus in tomato growing.  I repotted them, added fertilizer, and adjusted the shade cloth so more of the gray light of this odd June could help them revive.  I even turned the greenhouse heater back on, and plugged in a heating mat, to drive away the chill of the weather.  

            Perhaps it is my imagination, but even a day of renewed warmth and light has revived them, and given them some hope.

            I’ve applied that gardening lesson to myself, too.  Yesterday, the sun came out for an afternoon.  I decided I needed some repotting, sunshine, and fertilizer, too.  I took myself to the beach.  I began to notice the beauty of a summer day, my eyes squinting in the bright light, looking at flowers, trees, waterfalls, and the sparkly brightness of the ocean and the beach.  Others were out too, exploring the beach, going fishing, or just walking around in the sunshine, like me.  The air was fresh and warm and I got the blood circulating and the leg muscles stretched and worked out. I realized I was surrounded by beauty and serenity, and the miracles of what Nature can offer us.  

            Like the tomatoes, I felt my roots grow and my leaves reaching up for the warm sunshine of a summer’s day.  The doldrums of yet another day of cool showers and gray skies was pushed away by that feel that we live in a beautiful place, and need to get out and soak up all the goodness and light of where we live.  





Unwinding the string from the tuning peg, and popping out the peg by the bridge, the old string flayed around a bit, before I coil it up and set it aside.  It had lived a good life, part of the first strings on my buddy’s first guitar.


He’d worn it out, as he tried out his first few tentative chords and strumming patterns, toughening his finger tips and the side of his thumb.  He’s a finger picker, first and foremost, quickly finding his groove as he brings the songs in his mind to life on the guitar.  He’ll do a lot with this guitar; he’s one of those natural musicians, playing the chords and the beat not too long after he first hears a song.


He’s watched everything I’ve done with my guitar, when we get together and play.  And when someone else comes by and picks out a tune, he’s all eyes and ears.  What he soaks up is soon flowing out of his fingers, bringing out another song on his new musical pal.


We clean off the fretboard with a rag and something called guitar honey.  The frets and the wood of the fretboard soon sparkle, along with the brand new strings.  He’s realizing all of his hours of picking, and learning new skills, has actually worn out the tough metal strings.  There’s been some progress here, with his new hobby, his passion that’s burst into flame in the last six weeks.


With each one, we push the ends through the tuning peg, wrapping it around, and then slowly tightening it, bringing it up to the proper pitch, playing an odd melody of increasing frequency; boing, boingg, BOING!


He’s mystified, at first, at the process of changing strings.  It is another lesson in guitarmanship, this craft of creating music from this oddly shaped wooden box, a board, and six wires strung over a hole in the box.  Some call it a Tennessee flat top box, but we who spend our time with it would think a more spiritual name would be a better fit.


Soon, the guitar is back in his hands, and he’s fine tuning each string.  The smile on his face telling me he’s hearing a sharper, clearer voice from his friend.


The new strings, like his life now with the guitar, sharper, more defined, and more in tune.