In late summer successful gardeners become superbly generous, even pushy. The fields of California burst with extra tomatoes. All over the Central Valley, tomato trucks bomb along blazing hot roads. You know they are tomato trucks because they have open tops and spill tomatoes, especially on bumps and curves. Roads with tomato-spangled corners mean the end of summer.
These tomatoes aren't meant to be sold by the each. They'll be pounded, concentrated, and purified into sauce and catsup, so if they get smashed on the ride to the plant or a few hundred get lost, it doesn't matter. Abundance brings carelessness.
Last weekend we were driving through the Valley. It was hot, hot, hot. On a back road we slowed when a flight of sparrows rose from a scatter of spilled tomatoes. Suddenly the air was full of yellow butterflies.
They were Orange Sulphur butterflies (Colias eurytheme). As butterflies they drink nectar, but when they're children (caterpillars), they eat plants in the pea family, especially alfalfa. They're a native species that hit a bonanza when humans started planting alfalfa. In a paper about exotic crops that please local butterflies, Graves & Shapiro write that you can spot summer alfalfa fields from a long way away by the yellow clouds of butterflies.
Singly and in revolving pairs, they fluttered across the road, heedless of cars and trucks. We expected this to be a passing thing, but as we kept driving, they kept swooping over the road, through the burning air, crashing against windshields and grilles.
With so many butterflies, the number killed by cars is unimportant to the species. But we couldn't bear the havoc, so we turned back to another road, more traveled by people, less traveled by butterflies.
Red and yellow scatters, on the ground, in the air. An explosion of abundance and abandon, and summer's over.