One of my favorite novels to teach was John Steinbeck’s The Pearl. I loved his use of landscape, the very human ways the main character Kino and his young wife Juana faced ills that befell them, and truths about human nature the author unfolded in quotes that emerge from my memory at odd times. One of those instances occurred last week.
Ever since we moved, I’ve anticipated planting a garden behind our shed. A neighbor used his tractor to till well-rested soil to crumbly powder that sifted through my fingers like sand through an hourglass. After gardening on a rocky hilltop for almost two decades, I was giddy thinking about tucking seed potatoes and onion slips into fertile earth.
While some folks use an almanac to tell them the best time to plant, the weather channel’s rain predictions guide me. There’s nothing like a heaven-sent soaking to get seeds off to good start. Based on the report, it looked like Mother Nature would aid me in christening my new seed plot.
According to the internet, I could expect a 90% chance for moisture. That offered good odds even in these dry times, so I cut up seed potatoes, prepared onion slips and bulbs, and organized packets of early season seeds. The whole time I loaded my garden cart with supplies, words rattled inside my head like seeds in a dry gourd—“It is not good to want a thing too much. It sometimes drives the luck away . . . .”
Those syllables haunted me because I couldn’t remember where I’d heard or read them. In my imagination, I saw an Indian woman saying them, so I started a mental inventory of books, movies, and TV shows I’d read or seen, hoping to come up with a source. Finally, I recalled John Steinbeck penned them decades ago when he told the parable of a young man and his pearl of great value.
Straddling rows of freshly planted Yukon gold, Kennebeck, and red Pontiac potatoes, I wished mightily for rain and remembered Steinbeck’s words. Surely the weatherman was more correct than a long dead author. When I rose from popping onions in fresh-plowed earth, a desire for sprinkles crossed my mind only to have that repeating quote attack.
It made me wonder if a similar superstition drives farmers to understate their dreams for good harvests. I don’t know that I’ve heard an agriculturist boast about the quality of a crop in the field. Too many factors can drive either production or prices south to make a person with expectations still rooted in dirt voice hope.
Sunday dawned damp and gray. Perhaps I hadn’t wanted rain too much. Surely I had wished just enough. I turned on my computer to search the weather report. Rain was north and east of us, not over us. We’d had a hint of moisture, but not the real deal.
This experience helps me understand why farmers are cautious. Steinbeck must have learned this restraint growing up in an agricultural region. Perhaps words he attributed to a young mother living beside the Sea of Cortez initially emerged from the mouth of a farmer visiting John’s father’s feed and grain store in Salinas.