The Mushroom Farmer, Book Three, Chapter 10

The chayote plants had arrived in such uncommonly vibrant good health that it made the mf feel extra sad when they all immediately shriveled up and died.

Oh, they were dead all right. Leaves that had arrived emphatically green, and as fully upright as all of us who are reaching for the sky — every single one of those lush leaves on each of six lovingly packed-for-shipping plants, each one representing the entirely do-able promise of a soon-forthcoming gourd paradise — they all overnight turned shit brown and as sunken down as a typically cheerful person in the depth of clinical depression.

The mf gazed upon the fallen vines and thought, dang. He thought, shucks. He was putting on a downhome front, which you have to do as a gardener if you are not going to water your garden with tears.

Inside, the mf felt disappointed but also curious. Why would such healthy plants up and die so soon? It was something to ponder.

He wanted to grow chayote because you see them in Latin produce markets todo el tiempo. He liked the pale green gnarliness of chayote fruit. He liked that chayote is a staple of both Central American as well as many Asian cuisines. He loved that chayote fruit have almost the exact heft of a hardball.

The mf had also seen chayote flourishing in a long-gone community garden south of downtown that had notoriously been bulldozed to make way for nothing. However, it later turned out that the city block where chayote and nopales and many beans and corns besides had flourished had, like the entire surrounding neighborhood, for decades been horrifically contaminated by a nearby battery factory.

The demise of that community garden and its subsequent finding to have been a garden of poison is a sadness the mf carries with him in his heart-shaped portable collection of sad things with no answers.

A farmer can’t be afraid to kill plants. That’s a saying the mf often turns to after confronting garden sadness. Also, the mf is trying not to take things personally nowadays. He saw an ad on the internet that said, “Learn how not to take things personally.” It made him think, “What if instead of clicking, I just don’t take things personally from now on?”

This is a work in progress. Meanwhile, the mf felt chagrin, sprinkled with hope that the sturdy chayote seed would generate more robust vines. Hope is nice. But days passed and the withered plants degenerated further, sinking into the ground like the Wicked Witch of the West after being doused with water. They cursed him with their dying sputter, “Look at us suffer and die, we who arrived in your care at the pinnacle of health.”

It had been the pinnacle, all right. The mf wrote a note to the vendor who had so meticulously wrapped the formerly happy chayote plants in paper with two bamboo spikes to protect the upright leaves from being jostled in transit and then added an additional layer of heavy-duty bubble wrap.

Bubble wrap means caring in every language.

बबल रैप का मतलब हर भाषा में देखभाल करना है।

氣泡包裝意味著對每種語言的關懷。

Ang bubble wrap ay nangangahulugang pag-aalaga sa bawat wika.

The mf had felt such admiration for the vendor’s care in shipping the chayote vines that he wrote a note to him saying this: “I am not blaming you for their failure. I am just wondering if you had any idea what might have caused it.”

The vendor wrote back, “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

And that was it. No, “I’m so sorry the plants died.” No, “Try X next time; here’s a great offer on some replacement plants.” No nuffin.

Oh well. The mf has a theory now. The chayote plants died from shock.

That would explain the suddenness.

Maybe he should have let them acclimate to being in Southern California for a couple of days before planting them in the warm and happening dirt of his little farm. When I say “warm and happening,” I mean, if you stick a hand trowel into a row of the mf’s garden, it comes back up with dirt that is practically pulsing with energy, like a tiny supernova.

The chayote might have OD’d on soil. Maybe.

Maybe it was the epsom salts in particular. The mf had sprinkled epsom salts all along each row, having read back when he was making bath bombs with Mrs. mf that epsom salts can be used to encourage sprouting. “What’s this now?” the mf had made a mental note by chiseling it into the soft material of his brain that might someday be repurposed as mushroom substrate.

The making of bath bombs with Mrs. mf had been a moment of splendor. “It’s like what something newlyweds would do,” he heard Mrs. mf breathe to one of her long-time besties. Ooo-ooo-ooo, thought the mf, in spotlight letters on the marquee of his mind. I did something right!

He had been thinking they could amortize the big ol’ lavender bush smack dab in the middle of the little farm by making lavender oil and using the lavender oil in bath bombs, which are little golf ball-sized agglomerations of citric acid, epsom salts, and essential oils. They go through them like crazy in the mf household on account of their aches and groans from being on the go so much.

I mention the glory of love, as seen here in the long-married mf and Mrs. mf making bath bombs together even though the lavender oil came out stinky, something went wrong, you just have to pour that concoction down the sink right away and chalk it up to something, live and learn or live and live, they’re both viable approaches, the main thing being whew, that lavender oil did not come out the way it was supposed to, oh well.

And yeah, it checks out that epsom salts sprinkled directly onto soil does what sowing salt directly into soil has historically done: kill everything. The mf has inadvertently taken out vengeance upon himself, with the chayote plants as his proxies.

It’s sobering.

And yet, as it states clearly in the disco-era hit “Funky Town,” you gotta move on.

By now the epsom salts have probably dissolved. The mf refuses to believe that he has permanently poisoned his own garden. It is theoretically possible and people do fork themselves over with equal or greater malfeasance day in and day out, but the mf has never considered himself to be a permanent life-fucker-upper, to speak plainly. Temporary life fucker-upper, oh sure, but permanent? Even if it’s true, the mf would rather leave that like unclaimed baggage going around and around on the baggage claim carousel.

So in the spirit of I can’t go on, I’ll go on, the mf looked up chayote propagation and discovered you can plant the fruit directly in the ground. Huh. Who knew? Typically you are not supposed to plant grocery store vegetables, such as potatoes, directly in the ground; however, the reasons for this seem vague. Grocery store veggies are bred for consumption, not propagation. What’s the diff though, you could ask. Will it trigger Armageddon to plant a supermarket yam?

So he bought two chayote from a Latin market on his bike ride home from school. These were two old, gnarly-looking chayotes, with vines starting to grow from the crown of the fruit. The lady at the market wagged a finger at the mf for picking those two, but he told her, “Esta bien, yo quiero crecerlos y ellos ya tienan las vinas.”

This made sense to her, so she rang him up. The mf felt proud of his conversational Spanish, which determined that she had lived in the neighborhood for 20 years and that while she herself was fine, the neighborhood wasn’t great. The liquor store across the street generated muchas problemas. Together, the mf and the grocer agreed that alcohol es muy peligrosa.

Then he rode his bike home and planted those two chayotes because it is still his dream to grown a great many of them and put them out on a little table in front of his house so passersby can come by and help themselves.

Published by MarkGozonsky

Mark Gozonsky has been writing stories and essays since he was a music snob prodigy in early-1970's San Antonio, Texas. Since then he has written about not only music but also baseball, gardening, teaching, parenting, cycling and the... glory of love. Lit Hub and The Sun have published his work, and so has the Austin Chronicle. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, where he teaches English to some of the nicest kids in the world at an arts-themed public high school downtown.

3 thoughts on “The Mushroom Farmer, Book Three, Chapter 10

  1. I, too, carry a heart-shaped portable collection of sad things with no answers.
    The reliable internet said this: Gypsum (calcium sulfate) or lime can be used to help leach salt from the soil. The calcium in these products replaces the sodium salt from the soil exchange sites and helps bring the salt into solution.

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