Beyond Garlic

A stainless steel bowl teeters on my lap. One lip of the bowl balances against the dining room table and the other presses into my plumpish belly. The bowl slowly fills with dry papery skins and stiff, curly threads.

What am I doing?

“Popping the clove,” that’s what I’m doing. Getting the cloves ready to plant as seed before the fall rains come. This is one of the ways I’ve been getting to know garlic. Yes, garlic. I’ve always loved eating garlic, but it never occurred to me, even though I’ve been shopping in organic markets most of my life, that garlic meant more than white cloves bound in a bulb with the stem cut off, – big, bigger and biggest versions of garlic but the same kind of garlic. I never questioned those facts.

Here at Betsey Wittick’s Laughing Crow Farm on Bainbridge Island, veils of lifelong mis-information are being shredded along with the papery skins.

Betsey, who’s been farming here for more than twenty years, plants around twenty or so varieties of garlic with lyrical names describing their birthplaces or characteristics: Chesnok Red, Asian Tempest, Red Rezan, Brown Vesper, Russian Red, Georgian Fire, Rosewood, Lorz Italian or French Silverskin.

I don’t know how agri-business handles popping cloves, but here we sit around a table and chat.  Or sometimes we work in the back of a truck simply because it’s a sunny day in the midst of many rainy ones.

And it’s just old fashioned fun to raise a few eyebrows, spread good will and have fun socializing while doing repetitive work.

At the same time we work with our hands, we drink tea, beer, or wine, snack on homemade yummies, help each other lift loads or finish off a bushel, make decisions about which garlic is market worthy, which can go home with us as a thank you for our volunteer labor and talk about the winter weather predictions, global warming or not, farming practices that are working or not, possibilities for our human futures or not… conversations that touch common ground and deliver some chuckles and spice, conversations which can meander and sometimes lead to surprising epiphanies, conversations impossible to have on Twitter or Facebook.

Garlic entrances me. It demands being tended to. The full on sensual presence of handling garlic – the dirt under my nails, the smell in my nose, the rustling whispers of dried skin, the range of personalities of the different varieties, like the varying energy of various people – all these fill more than my belly appetite. Most important is the promise of tomorrow and my participation in its fulfillment. WOW!

By the by, this past weekend, a woman told me that “wow” is really God’s name. Everytime we say wow, we’re calling on God. “The loveliest thing,” she added, “is that wow spells god both forward and backward.” Sweet, huh?

I’m reading a new book by Mary Oliver, titled Swan. This morning, I found this one which sums up my devotion to garlic:

Beans Green and Yellow

In fall it is mushrooms
gathered from dampness
under the pines;
in spring
I have known
the taste of the lamb
full of milk
and spring grass;
it is beans green and yellow
and lettuce and basil
from my friends’garden-
how calmly,
as though it were an ordinary thing,
we eat the blessed earth.

About Deborah

Deborah Jane Milton, Ph.D. is an artist, mentor, and eco-psychologist, mother of four and grandmother of eight.
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4 Responses to Beyond Garlic

  1. James Lawer says:

    I read the other day (by someone who says he was told by someone who outta know) that in the Hebrew Scriptures the word for “holy” can also be translated as “weird.” I haven’t checked this out for myself, but that word is a likely candidate for review, because if it DOES come out that the original word is something in the zone of “Wyrd and wild and amazing,” then shucking garlic with dirt in fingernails is another name for the “divine.” How’s that for sacred wow! The unexpected, like joy popping out of dead, dry skin, plopping into bowls for spreading new growth. And just maybe someone who is reading this knows about holy (and not the sit-in pews variety). Possibilities draw us towards potentiality.


  2. I love garlic too. And you are going to be disappointed in me, Deborah, because I invested in a jar of chopped, pickled, ‘lazy garlic’ to avoid having to chop it. I feel a little shifty now, and will go out and buy some to plant as soon as it is seasonable.
    I rarely eat anything savoury without garlic in it, and its special characteristics have inspired so much folklore.
    Thank you for this timely reminder:-)


  3. Deborah says:

    oh oh Kate, can you direct me to some of the folk lore references to garlic. I know it protects us from vampires! But what else – especially if it plays a role in old English folk tales, I’d love to know about it.
    Tending to the needs of garlic, like tending to the needs of the vineyard grape vines at the same plot of land, has inspired my knowing the plants in a whole new way, as individuals with needs and personalities…quite touching actually.
    And sometimes it’s wise not to chop your own garlic. I chopped garlic, then put my contacts in…oh my golly that was a mistake. I’d washed my hands first but that made no difference.


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