9.24.2009

The Language of Fireflies


l.i.c., ny
Summer officially ended this week, but don’t tell that to my garden, or the kids on my block who are still outside on the sidewalk catching fireflies well past dinnertime. It is during that hour, the just past dinner hour, that you’ll find me in the garden tempting the sun to dare to go down on me before I’ve pruned the tomato plants that hang heavy with fruit, or picked the last of our lively beans that creep where they will.
One such night this week, András came to the garden with me, and pulled up a perky bunch of bright orange carrots with one golden misfit. Like almost everything that comes out of our garden or goes on to our plates, I wanted to take their picture, particularly when he dangled them by their tops in front of his vibrant orange shirt. But he wasn’t having it, sticking out his tongue and making funny faces. Luckily, our Hameeda came to his rescue.
Hameeda is the spirited four year old who lives next door with her two brothers, her older sister Fahmeda, her parents, two cousins and her aunt and uncle. The family, but in particular the kids, have become our constant companions on summer nights at home. At first, I was the garden lady, always passing in front of their gate with haphazard bundle of something green, which all six children would gather around to touch or taste.
But Hameeda isn’t satisfied with casual encounters. Ever since I met her last summer, she almost seems to wait for me to come home, leaping into my arms as soon as she sees me, grabbing onto any part of me until she is up close to my face staring into my eyes where I stare back, loving her happy eyes, her baby skin, her childish mixture of Bangla and English that makes perfect sense to me. If ever my arms are too full of vegetables to lift her up, she’ll accept a taste of what I’ve picked as a love offering instead.
“What’s that?” she asked reaching for the carrots in András’ hands. And before long they were hers, András was inside in his Lazy boy and I was in heaven shooting pictures of my little friends.
Although the kids are no stranger to my camera, Hameeda stood stiff against the brick wall, trying to pose pretty and perfect with her carrots. Fahmeda, always quick to leap to her role as big sister, called out instructions in Bangla, after which Hameeda would turn her head or smile bigger or lift the carrots a certain way. I snapped a few photos, then I pulled her into my arms and whispered in her ear “go wild,” after which she handed out the carrots one by one to her playmates and raced down the street, panting and laughing with the unabashed joy and wonder of a four year old for whom a summer night on a sidewalk is a magical and mysterious thing, full of endless possibilities.


These were the moments just before grown-up-dinner hour, before the carrots softened into the subtleties of butter, shallots and garlic in a sauté pan, before they were married with the pot of simmering summer beans and served in return for the unabashed joy and gratitude of a hungry city farmer.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Local, fresh and lovely.

Holly said...

I'm so happy your garden is holding on to the last days of summer (what little summer we had!) Your stories are so precious; they make me wish I still lived in New York. I see so many farms and gardens in my new home in PA, but there is nothing as magical as a thriving urban garden- probably because it's so unexpected. Thanks for sharing yours with us!

Timmy said...

Sarah,

The world need millions more of you. You've proven time and again your ability to touch the hearts of younger kids and teach them that good fresh good comes from the ground and is one of our best gifts!! Please never stop!

Timmy

Liz said...

For some reason, the title of this post grabs me. You have a way with labels, or titles, yet your writing defies such things. Always fresh, fun, tasty, interesting. I love your openess to the world, to your neighbors (espcecially in a city where this becomes suspect), to the colors and smells around you. Bravo.

Anjee said...

It seems Sarah you are planting a multitude of seeds from your graden to the wonderful children in your neighborhood. Its amazing what you can do when you open yourself up to sharing your joys...(food, gardening, children) to others in your path. I am sure your impact in Hameeda's life is priceless. Thanks for sharing. I reminds us all we all have lovely opportunties like this in our own paths.

Heather said...

This story touched my heart. I can picture Hameeda waiting for her garden lady (and now so much more) to come home. You have such a way with children, and your influence will last much beyond your encounters with them. Beautiful pictures, and great descriptions! I miss fireflies. I wonder why there aren't any in Colorado?

Meredith said...

I love this story! Hameeda could be any one of the kids in my class so I know how much she must look forward to seeing you! Those experiences are ones that she will remember for the rest of her life. and you were the one to give them to her. Pretty powerful.

Katherine said...

Just lovely Sarah.

jennifer said...

oh, "unabashed joy", I love that...it makes me smile just envisioning my little ones with "unabashed joy".....absolutely beautiful writing...lovely..

Scott said...

These photos and prose are the type that make you want to take a bite out of whatever is described! Even though I don't often have the time with a newborn to comment on all, I love the blog and have been looking forward to the entries more than my monthly arrival of Saveur.

JJPickford said...

What a beautiful piece -- it really stays with me. I love how you capture what's happening in your photographs as well.

JJPickford said...

Beautiful -- I love how the photograhps also capture what is happening in the story. The fruit of your gardens are obviously touching many.

daniegil said...

What wonderful urban garden memories you're making for these kids in your neighborhood! You have the magic touch - teaching kids to learn about and love vegetables. What great smiles!

Mary said...

I love this post..there is nothing better than a picture of a carrot picked right out of a garden..what a happy girl! Your writing reminds me so much of Dorie Greenspan and I really enjoy reading your blog.

jenny said...

yesterday I wanted one of your famous garden veggie-on-rustic bread sandwiches so badly!

Kelly said...

I absolutely love your image of the "golden misfit"! And boy was it. That first photo you've posted here really does give that proud yellow carrot a platform for showing off. Thank you for sharing your neighborhood garden stories with us. I recently signed a petition for the creation of a neighborhood garden spot in Springfield, MO, and we can only hope for something as lovely as what you have there in Manhattan. Your story here gives me yet another reason to support such an endeavor - community bonding over something as simple and sweet as a carrot!

claire said...

I absolutely adore your writing. I wonder if she'll think of you and summer evenings when she holds carrots in her hands later on in life. So many of my memories have been contained in food. So many more parts of other people (like my grandmother) have been given to me in food.

sarah said...

Thank you all for your beautiful comments. I just came home and found my little dear ones peeking out at me from the upstairs window, which was fogged with what I can only assume is the steam from their mother's cooking, so fragrant I could almost smell it from the street...

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New York City, United States
Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.