He stood like a statue in the orange misty morning light, looking down. Black plastic tubing snaked by his feet and through and around the plants, appearing and disappearing between the leaves and stalks. Thinner tubing sprouted perpendicular from the main line, carrying up small sprays of water that misted into the air before falling and condensing, forming little drops and drips as it ran toward the dark soil. It sounded like a thousand leaky tires.
He turned when he heard the gravel crunch under my flip-flops as I crossed the driveway heading from my truck toward the house, cradling a towel and a clean pair of underwear in my arm. He smiled. “Morning,” he said. In his right hand pinched between his index finger and thumb was a paperclip that had been partially straightened. He held it up for me to see. “Had a couple plugged ones.” The mental image combined with the stimulus of the running, dripping, spraying liquid brought forth an unpleasant tingly pressure in my bladder, and after a moment of hurried pleasantries I quickly headed inside.
At this point I had been fishing the San Juan river for four days, home-basing from the back of my Tahoe which Chris Taylor, owner of Fisheads Lodge and Guide Service, graciously allowed me to park in his driveway. Thad, who manages Fisheads and lives in the same house, had been a permanent fixture in the yard since my arrival.
The first night I spent hanging around I watched him use wooden posts and orange string to layout a seventy-five-by-four foot section of the yard that bordered the fence separating the property from the river.
“I can’t stand a crooked garden,” he said when he saw me and my beer standing on the grey paver walkway. I motioned towards the turned ground. “What are you going to plant here?” He wiped his hands and turned to look down the rows, his headlamp light soaked up by the dark, wet-looking soil. He told me green beans, maybe asparagus, other various things, but that beer was far from my first and I have to admit that I don’t really remember. He made his way back down the rows, poking at the soil with a long-handled tool.
Behind where I stood was the most visually impressive part of his setup. Naked steel hoops arched over four wide rows. Bright red mulch covered the raised beds outlined with railroad ties. Down the middle of each ran tomato plants caged in round five-foot-tall wire cylinders wrapped in plastic. As well as protecting the plants and giving them support, the plastic creates a humid atmosphere for the plant to thrive. “This is the first year I have used actual greenhouse plastic,” Thad told me. “It is much better than using painters plastic,” he explained, saying that it lets in about three times as much UV light. The downside is that it is much more expensive. About four-hundred dollars more expensive. Worth it? Time will tell, but the happy look on his face told me all I needed to know.
Running down both sides of the tomato apparatus were various types of pepper plants; Anaheim, Naked, Poblano, Jalapeno, Habanero (I think), Sante Fe (probably), Ancho (most likely). We walked between the beds, Thad using his headlamp to point out the different varieties, and talked about techniques and improvements made over the years. He would stop sometimes and point out a plant that needed a little help, saying this one needed a little more (insert chemical here), which he would take care of tomorrow, or how this one needs a little (insert other chemical here). This time of year from early morning to late at night (I think it was around 1:30am at this point) Thad will plant, tend, check, and recheck. And not only at this location. He came home one afternoon as I was re-rigging some gear and told me he had spent all day out at a friends place putting down over a hundred more plants.
Along with the peppers and tomatoes to the west, the green beans, maybe asparagus, and nine other things to the north, there were raspberries, blueberries, bushy little plants, tall leafy plants, plants on tables, and on trailers. Every morning and evening there was Thad, the male version of Hegemone in the San Juan valley.
The night before I left I reclined on the screened porch beside the low burble-talk of the river and shared a home-made pizza with Thad. The dough was airy and perfect, the sauce was from the previous-years canning. The basil fresh from the garden laid gently atop fresh melty mozzarella. Inbetween bites I asked Thad about cost. Wasn’t it expensive versus buying it at a store? I immediately felt like an idiot. Of course it costs more. A lot more, but that isn’t the point. It is a love, a passion, a thing he needs to do. Like fishing for me. But at least after all his time and money and effort, he has things. Delicious things. And lots of them to enjoy year-round. When I left the next day my hobby had netted me a sore elbow, a slight sunburn, and an empty cooler. Well, almost empty, because luckily there are people like Thad, who insisted I take a few pieces of that wonderful pizza for the road.
-Alex who did make an attempt to get ahold of Thad for a little more specific inventory of what he is growing, but alas he wasn’t around and was most likely green-thumbing the shit out of somewhere.