How is it the clear-eyed person can’t sever the red threads beneath their feet?’

~ Entangling Vines, Case 142

The great thing about working on koans, or public cases, is that they turn into something you would not have imagined, and in that, become fresh and new discoveries. The above koan is associated with worldly passions and delusions: the red thread of sex. desire, and attachment..

For some weeks I have been chewing and burning over the passion play in this koan, which is the last of Songyuang’s Three Turning-Phrases. A friend recommended a classic Russian movie, which got me fevering over spiritual passion. Another friend sent an invitation to an art gallery show of male pornography re-imagined (more like ‘revealed’, I think), which was beautiful and carnal in its way. (An acquaintance quipped of our host, who studied 11 years to become a priest, ‘Boy, he had a lot of Jesuit to work out!’)

But tonight is a warm summer night, and mostly what I have been thinking about are my tomatoes, and their lack of lust for life.Tomatoes are serious business in my garden; I usually put up about 35 quarts of canned tomatoes a year. I start them from seeds, which are planted in late February. Most of the seedlings this season, even after the snail and slug tithe, started fine. But since the late spring, they have been slow to thrive: it is mid-July and my Big Boys are only four inches tall, barely enough to give satisfaction.

I usually start canning by early August, but thus far I have only a single cherry tomato in the garden.

So tomatoes are my passion. Not so much a vermillion thread as vegative orb, or perhaps only a red plop, as the blanched fruit drops into my canning jars. When fresh, I smell and fondle them (I have to be careful here; my daughters read this note), nibble them and stroke them. I adore everything about my tomaoes. But there are no tomatoes to hold right now. What is a farmer to do? Well, go back to the red thread until the tomatoes ripen, I suspect.

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