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March 21, 1995

Though spring arrived for me last Saturday, when I planted the Oregon Giant snow peas, I could hardly ignore its arrival today, in keeping with the vernal equinox. The most ancient and reliable standard for determining the onset of spring. What better way to mark this season of rebirth than by dating it from the moment at which the earth's orbit around the sun begins to yield a greater amount of daylight than darkness, of warmth rather than chilliness, of growth rather than decay. And on all counts, this day fulfilled its promise--from a light frost and a clear sunrise to a mild afternoon in the mid-fifties with scattered clouds moving across the sun. And a few daffodil buds beginning to make their way above ground in Kate's perennial border, and a few tulip leaves beginning to break ground by the edge of the terrace.

But for me the most special gift of the day arrived first thing, when I went to the radiator in the living room to check the tray of eggplant, pepper, and tomato seeds I planted last Friday and discovered that almost all the Enchantment and Whopper tomatoes had emerged, their seed husks shucked and seed leaves fully unfurled, seeking the light. A few came up yesterday, but their husks were still clinging so tightly to their leaves that I was fretting to Kate about my potentially stifled newborns. "Just keep them misted with the spray bottle, and they'll take care of the rest. There's nothing else you can do, except to stop fussing over them." So, thanks to Kate and the mist and the plants themselves, our main crop of tomatoes is safely underway, just five days after the seeds were planted. If I didn't know any better, I'd say the vernal equinox itself had something to do with their swift emergence. But then I'd be hard put to explain why only one of the Big Beef tomatoes had emerged--a delay that can only btributed to the fact that Big Beef's a later tomato and thus takes longer to germinate.

Every hybrid, it seems, has its own internal clock and thermometer that determine the number of days and the temperature it will take to germinate, mature, flower, bear fruit, and die. Within the span of those days and temperatures, individual variations will depend on soil and weather conditions. But the boundaries are firmly fixed by the genetic control of the hybridizers. I've often wondered about my own boundaries, but my parents died too early--from breast cancer and post-operative blood poisoning--to reveal anything about the genetic controls that have been bred into me. All I know is that my clock's still ticking and my thermometer's still rising on this equinoctial day of days. And for that I'm grateful to the sun and the soil and the vernal weather of my life.

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