Late one spring when I wasn't paying attention, my husband, David, planted two dozen hills of sugar pumpkins. The first I knew of it was when I saw the little green seedlings standing around the garden, healthy and vigorous. I thought some of them must be watermelons or cucumbers, but David assured me they were all pumpkins. "Just got a little carried away," he said serenely. I smiled weakly. Bugs would surely get some of them. The weather would do away with a few more. At least I hoped so.
But spring crept into summer, and every pumpkin flourished. It was uncanny. No damping-off, no cutworms, no squash bugs, not even a providential misstep with a muddy irrigation boot. There were no casualties, and the weather was perfect. By fall, the vines were everywhere, sashaying around the corn and beans and looping out onto the lawn. It seemed every plant had dozens of blossoms, and every blossom became a pumpkin. I watered and weeded helplessly.
My husband did not share my dismal vision of the future. He was rather proud of the garden that year, and the star performers were certainly the pumpkins. I understood. It's hard to get crops to grow in our farm's thin, rocky soil, so when something takes off as those pumpkins did, the natural reaction is to cheer them on. But a good pumpkin year for us is a good pumpkin year for all our neighbors, and I knew that a responsible farmer must sell, eat, or give away the food Mother Nature provides.
So on a frosty cold evening in early October, David and I set out with boxes and buckets and bushel baskets to gather the harvest home. The vines had wilted and died, leaving a mat of gray leaves and stems like a stone lattice over the brown dirt. Small, bright-orange pumpkins polka-dotted the patch, so thick I could fill each container without ever shifting my feet. We piled full cardboard boxes into the cold-storage room in the basement and stacked heaping bushels on the north side of the garage. The neighbors had pumpkins aplenty from their own gardens, but we made the rounds anyway, acting casual but feeling desperate, trying to unload some of the bounty. Nobody took any.
Then the real work of the harvest began. At first it wasn't bad. Warm pumpkin pies topped with vanilla ice cream, spicy pumpkin cake, even mounds of steamed pumpkin with butter and salt - everything tasted good, for a while. We ate pumpkin muffins, pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin cookies, calmly determined but increasingly queasy. I discovered that pumpkin could be made into dreadful pancakes and horrible salsa. We doggedly chewed it all down.
By December, two large boxes of slightly withered but perfectly usable pumpkins still sat in the basement, waiting to be sold, eaten, or given away. Or sent back home.
So on a frosty cold evening in early January, David took one box and I took the other, and we returned to the garden. David dumped the pumpkins, broke them up with a shovel, and covered them with dirt. The snow fell, the ground froze and thawed, and by spring plowing there was no sign of pumpkins, just fragrant dirt.
Nobody cleans his plate every time. Mother Nature, like mothers everywhere, has to deal with the leftovers. What's worrying me now, as fall approaches again, is the 400 square feet I serenely planted in onions a few months ago. I just didn't think they'd all grow.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society