Tomatoes were good this summer — the cherry purple Cherokee were a delight, some orange-colored Japanese heirloom ones were awesome, and boar’s tooth are the most underrated tomato out there.
But now it’s time to tear out the old and put in the fall. That’s how I found the pepper plant.
I’ve written about volunteers before — plants that sprout on their own. This year was particularly great for them. I got a bunch of chili peppers all around Puppy Strong Farms, a few tomato plants, and shisho, of which I grew a plant two years ago and has now reemerged as six.
I even have some okra growing, which will be the subject of a upcoming essay for Gravy, the Southern publication for which I’ve been a columnist about five years now, pandemic be damned.
But the sturdiest volunteer was a yellow cherry tomato mata that grew from a crack in my driveway. It’s the latest volunteer from a cherry tomato plant I first grew four years ago. It’s not the most elegant or tastiest tomato, but I’m just in awe of it insistence to propagate. As Buddy Holly would say, it not fade away.
This one spread out at least 6 feet, even though I didn’t water it much. It gave baskets of cherry tomatoes until it didn’t. When I tore it out, there was a pepper sprout in the middle of its vines, at least 3 inches high, growing from a hairline fracture on my concrete.
I could’ve plucked it out then and tried to transplant it. But I wanted to see how far it would go, so let it grow. It grew a foot tall, then began to flower.
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The rogue pepper plant grew branches, and a trunk about the circumference of a pen that tapered into the crack like the end of an eraser. I didn’t even know it existed until I took out the tomato.
Once I discovered the pepper plant, though, I took care of it. I secured the base, and began to water it regularly like my other plants. I marveled at nature. About the will to live and the ability to make do with what’s around you and thrive.
Roots! Where where they spreading? How were they getting water? Why was this plant healthier than other plants that I had done in the past? The miracle of life.
I remembered a famous tree from the Old West, a tall limber pine which seems to be growing from a boulder and is thus called the Tree in the Rock. I wondered how far this pepper would go, knowing its time was short.
Green chile buds began to appear, and I couldn’t wait to take a picture of the pepper plant once it was ready to give its harvest. They looked like chiltepines, but I also have two random chiles from Sinaloa, so maybe they all hybridized to create this one?
Then one morning, I found all the leaves drying. My pepper plant was dying.
I pruned off some leaves, and gave it water, even though I knew I had been watering it. I checked the trunk to make sure it hadn’t been snapped. Checked for any bugs.
Everything was fine, until it wasn’t.
The pepper plant died, just as some of the peppers were beginning to turn red.
Life comes, life goes. Miracles happen, but don’t always follow through.
Cherish what you have, because it could go fast. And when you find beauty, take care of it with your life – and It can still go just like that.
And then next summer, the volunteers come again to share their lessons anew.
GRÍTALE A GUTI
This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…
Have you tried corn burritos yet?
The pride of Ventura County! What the rest of the world calls taquitos, though — and no, San Diego, you didn’t invent them.
Got a question for Guti? Email me here.
Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:
IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Cover of a book I highlighted this week in the L.A. Times’ Essential California newsletter — read it below!
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “And it would be needful that he know and have an ever-present consciousness that this is a world of fools and rogues, blind with superstition, tormented with envy, consumed with vanity, selfish, false, cruel, cursed with illusions–frothing mad!”
—Ambrose Bierce, giving advice to aspiring writers
LISTENING:“Knock Three Times,” Tony Orlando & Dawn. I’m a sucker for late-’60s-early ’70s pop, because I find a joyful optimism SO out of touch with the era as to be life-affirming. Hadn’t heard this one in AGES, but came across it in a tiny radio station based out of, of all places, Fountain Valley. Great stomping energy, great chorus — and those cheesy, heartfelt sound effects — those were the days…
READING: “The Killer App”: The Baffler is jaundiced, jaunty journalism at its finest — and it’s also prescient and prophetic. Check out this takedown of WIRED, a magazine I still enjoy, when it was just emerging on the market and the Internet was just becoming a fad — EN ZERIO.
SHOUTOUT TO: Rick, who kindly donated 50 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! He said no plugs needes — fascinating…
Gustavo Taco Fundraiser Update
You’ll remember last week I asked for 2,500 tacos from ustedes in 72 hours to pass along to other journalists? Well…it didn’t happen. Many of ustedes did step up, and ustedes did finally get me 2,500…just this Friday night. So gracias to those who contributed — grateful email from me to come (this past week was…interesting)!
On the other hand, the donor behind the Aztlán Journalism Fund reupped their 2,500 taco commitment. They sent along this note as for their incredible charity:
It seemed odd to think about a “reason” since I felt compelled to do it.
I do know that I donate because I believe in the ripple effect and I know that my small donations will make a difference.
I also believe that generosity and monetary support is required to maintain an interest in indie journalism. There are some great stories out there and without support they might not get written.
I do feel a very strong connection to journalism as writing was my first passion. I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that I had at [high school] in the 80’s and didn’t go to college. I was able to parlay my work ethic at a job in a car dealership into a career in automotive which always seemed to keep me too busy to write.
So if I won’t make time for myself to write, I guess the next best thing is to help someone else on their path as a writer.
THANK YOU, anonymous donor. Now, I’ll be able to sponsor TWO weeks of indie journalism — time to get others to WERK.
Gustavo in the News
“Larry Elder is a Nightmare (and Gavin Newsom’s Fault)”: I get a shoutout in the “Bad Faith” podcast.
“Notes from the LAnd”: A great indie magazine headed by former writers at LA Weekly shouted out my columna from the week before about a Vicente Fernández radio show.
“Today’s Headlines: Democrats struggle with the recall’s second question”: An LA Times newsletter you should subscribe to plugs a columna of mine.
“Latinx Files: Remembering Juan Gabriel five years after his death”: Another LA Times newsletter you should subscribe to has my quick thoughts on my favorite JuanGa song.
“A Flour Tortilla Map of Los Angeles, From Sonoran to Mexicali-Styles”: L.A. Taco gets inspired by my KCRW #TortillaTournament and makes its own, pretty-good map.
“The Chills at Will Podcast”: My fellow L.A. Times columnista Jean Guerrero shouts me out on this literary podcast in which I’ve appeared.
“Where to find the best breakfast burritos in L.A.”: My L.A. Times colleague Bill Addison shouts out my choice for best breakfast burrito in OC.
Latest roster of episodes for “The Times: Daily news from the L.A. Times,” the podcast that I host. Listen to them, and SUBSCRIBE. Don’t let me become the Poochie of podcasts!
“California’s gun-control wars sway the U.S.”: From the Golden State’s recently overturned assault-weapons ban to an attempt by San Jose to require liability insurance for all gun owners.
“A sea change in baseball?”: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Trevor Bauer just might’ve ended the days of jerk baseball players.
“Mj Rodriguez brings the joy”: My colleague Yvonne Villarreal takes over the mic to talk to one of the stars of FX’s Pose.
“The Taliban beat me up, then let me go”: My L.A. Times colleague Marcus Yam with a hell of a story.
“Punk, arson and the public library”: A repeat of an episode about how cool is the L.A. Public Library.
“Grítale a Guti, Ep. 65, at least”: My latest IG Live free-for-all — tune in every Tuesday night at 9:45 PM PST!
“In Tustin, WWII-era warehouses store blimps. Their future hangs in the air”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about those weird structures off the 55 freeway.
“Gustavo Arellano: Will Latinos END Gavin Newsom In CA Recall?”: I appear on the “Breaking Points” podcasts to talk about a columna of mine.
“Smoke and Mirrors”: I take on the cult of Santa Maria barbecue in my latest Good Ol’ Chico columna for Gravy, the quarterly of the Southern Foodways Alliance. KEY QUOTE: “We had participated in a fantasy promoted as a gastronomic trip to the past. It was a past that never really existed, a lie first told long before the exploitation and bloodshed began that led to our meal.”
“In Larry Elder, the right embraces a false prophet of California’s Talk Show Land”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna talks about Ragnarök, the Book of Revelation, and Ma Joad to lambaste the leading candidate to replace California Gov. Gavin Newsom in the case he gets recalled. KEY QUOTE: “Because regardless of the final result, California politics will never be the same again. And this will all be worth it if it means we have come to the Twilight of the Talk Show Gods that have plagued Southern California for a generation.”
“Newsletter: A new history of Chicanos in Ventura County”: My latest LA Times takeover of the Essential California newsletter profiles the book whose picture I shared above. KEY QUOTE: “It’s a weighty title, but Barajas wisely doesn’t allow academic jargon to get in the way of great stories the rest of Southern California should learn — because, you know, Ventura County is part of Southern California.”
You made it this far down? Gracias! Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram while you’re down here. Don’t forget to forward this newsletter to your compadres y comadres! And, if you feel generous: Buy me a Paypal taco here. Venmo: @gustavo-arellano-oc