South Dakota poet and rancher Linda M. Hasselstrom writes about tomatoes and spiders and. . . Subdivisions – The South Dakota Standard



Marigolds in bloom; Wasps drink dogs’ water; Temperatures are breaking records: nature tells me it’s time to prune the tomatoes. Fifty years as a gardener have taught me to respect nature’s demands. My mouth is watering, waiting for the flavor of the tomato any flower could become – but I am determined.

I cut off a stalk that bears a dozen yellow star-shaped flowers. I inhale the peppery scent and amputate branches without green fruits that are bigger than my thumb.

Branches are the plant’s energy transport corridors. The distance makes it harder for the plant to send nutrients to flowers that are away from the main stem. Every inch increases the energy it takes for the tomato to turn a flower into a fruit. Removing most of the flowers that are hanging from the end of the spindly stems concentrates the plant’s energy and keeps it focused on the ripening of larger fruits.

I imagine the thickest stalks of the tomato as highways that lead to narrower back roads that lead to gravel and gravel paths with the signs “Ranchettes for Sale”. Driving on an expressway is made easier by the golden arches of commerce. Fast food, quick gasoline, quick expenses, and quick gratifications distract us from traffic and noise.

But you can’t grow tomatoes on asphalt.

Just as the tomato plant works harder to ripen distant fruit, every mile increases the cost of supporting a rural community. We all bear these costs. Every other citizen, no matter where we live, is taxed by groups living outside the center of energy production.

I’ve already eaten three tomatoes and cynically calculated their cost at about eight dollars a piece. Careful pruning will now increase my delicious earnings and my investment can be well worth it.

Success in the garden bites into the sun-warm flesh of an early girl (as seen in a picture from above When juice runs down my arm

In planting these tomatoes, I am responsible for understanding the natural behavior of the tomato and carefully controlling its desire for growth so that it can produce my food. Each flower cluster shines like a new subdivision, and each subdivision carries in every cell of its being the desire to grow, to become a city. The wish is logical: transportation costs are lower when shared; a city accumulates many needs which are cheaper to satisfy when everyone stands together.

I feel for the tomato plants and the residents of the subdivisions. But every blossom consumes resources that all of us have to support. And that’s everyone’s business. If we don’t all want to lose clean air, water and space, we need to set our priorities and act accordingly.

The late summer sun burns my shoulders, but as the sun sets, the cold air licks my ankles.

Sweat runs down my face, but I feel the winter massaging and buzzing behind the northern horizon. In memory of old times we celebrate the death of the Sun King and hover between hope and fear for the time of the cold.

Kneeling, while the sharp-smelling branches pile up around me, I come to the Pedipalpe with a warrior queen who guards my harvest: Argiope Aruntiawho have favourited black and yellow, globe-weaving spider. As big as my thumb, it forms wide nets with zigzag bands in the middle.

Can I compare the spider’s prey – flies, grasshoppers, groundworms – to the developers and real estate agents who cannot understand the negative effects of growth?

Following their own instinct for survival, they seek the best forage, the purest country air, the largest tomato, and eat resources for their own purposes. Without control, they will feed their offspring today by pruning a plant that could feed us all tomorrow. They chew and spit just like me, but their dark juices can ruin the gardener’s job.

By their nature, developers are motivated by the desire to expand and often honestly believe that bigger is better. Ed Abbey called growth “the ideology of the cancer cell” and suggested that the rest of us need to keep it in check. So the spider’s instinct to wrap its prey in silk and hang it on its web for future meals is natural and necessary.

I work carefully around cobwebs, fantasizing about a giant orb weaver patrolling the plains, a master gardener pruning unwise growth.

If it is allowed to follow its instinct, any division will require more resources than it can produce. Water from dwindling reservoirs evaporates on strange lawns and trees; Taxpayers struggle to provide for widely dispersed community schools, police officers, garbage disposal and fire protection.

We need spiders – laws and legislators – to make sure the garden feeds us all, not just a few.

Nature tries – through forest fires, floods, blizzards, and other natural means – to control toxic growth, but it needs help if we are to have real communities. Each of us must be vigilant and swing our garden knives – our vigilance and our ability to choose – in our own backyards.

Linda M. Hasselstrom writes poetry, non-fiction, and conducts writing retreats at her ranch in South Dakota. Her 16th book is “Write Now, Here’s How – Insights from Six Decades of Writing”. You can reach them at or



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