The bounty of the moment

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone …” Joni Mitchell captured the universal truth in “Big Yellow Taxi.”

I found myself humming the tune as I looked with longing at our plum tree. Last year loaded with plums. We ate them. We gave them away. I canned quart after quart. There were just too many. Or so I thought.

I did not know, as I blithely gave away bags of plums, that this year there would be none.

The winter was too cold. Plums only produce every other year. Who knows why? We are new to plum trees. This one was on the acreage when we moved here and we don’t have enough experience to know its patterns, its rhythms. I just know we will not experience that luscious, purple fruit this year.

Every year, there are moments when I am swept away by the abundance of our garden. Colanders of green beans. Bushels of tomatoes. Quarts of raspberries. All fantastic, amazing, delicious. All requiring me to cook, to can, to freeze. Anything, so we do not lose, do not waste, such precious bounty. By the end of the summer, our shelves are lined with jars, our freezer packed with containers of produce – enough to last until the next summer.

As overwhelmed as I may be at the annual onslaught of produce, I count on the garden to ‘do it again’ each year. And the garden does not disappoint. But not so with plums, apparently.

One jar of plums remains in my pantry. I am hoarding it. For what special occasion, I am not sure. Truthfully, I did not know how much I would love the canned plums. But I do. Isn’t that always the way? “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone …”

It seems I have to learn again and again to appreciate what I have, in the moment. This time, plums.

This essay was published in the Des Moines Register on July 12, 2009

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