Volunteers and Omens

Okay, I’ve been a slacker. In so many ways. I’ve been getting nada done at work, I’ve not been writing, the garden’s turned feral (“Where did that pumpkin come from? What happened to the tomato plants? And who planted a tree there?”), and I haven’t even begun packing for the Pole.

In some ways, and in my defense, there’s not actually a lot to do at the moment. The actual packing seems straightforward: spare socks, long underwear, and plenty of good reading material. I’ve been transitioning out of my old position at work, and seem to have done a survivable job of wrapping up my responsibilities there (yes, I will fix that null field bug, but don’t think we can do anything about cron until those guys – you know who I mean – get their story straight). The garden, though? I don’t think I have any excuses there. Given all the time I put in through the spring to nurse those poor doomed pumpkins and peas and beans…  In spite of going out each morning and evening, flicking slugs, emptying the disgusting slug-and-beer tins and picking-and-flicking the snails that hadn’t quite made it to the traps yet, gastropods got each and every pumpkin and pea plant I’d planted and tended. The beans just seemed to wither and die of their own accord. Even the zucchini died after producing three measly little pods – I didn’t realize zucchini could actually die. Vegetable angst, I suppose – I don’t know how else to explain it.

But somewhere midsummer, when the tomatoes really took off (nothing can kill tomato plants around here – they’re like Superman, away from Planet Krypton), I stopped hovering over the garden. I’d given up on beating back the slugs, and stopped going out every evening.  I turned my attention to other things, and forgot about the garden. When I returned, the had artichokes blossomed into gorgeous purple thistle flowers and forgotten potatoes we’d dug in some time in the distant past had come billowing out from under the carcass of zucchini leaves. And suddenly there were pumpkins everywhere. Growing out from under the long-bolted lettuce, crushing it beneath the mass of spiky vines. Smothering our pathetic attempt at bell peppers. Billowing from the graveyard of beans and peas. Pumpkin plants verdantly rising up and flowering as volunteers from every one of our garden beds – even creeping out from among the unassailable tomatoes – except for one plot. They conspicuously left bare the one place I had planted them, and so desperately tried to grow them.

As far as I can tell, these pumpkins are invaders from another planet. Year after year, they’ve sprung up wherever they wanted and produced amazingly tasty fruits. Best pumpkin pies I’ve ever made, and I have no idea what variety they are. I tried planting seeds from last year’s crop – those were the ones that the slugs mowed flat. But then, out of bare soil, here comes another crop.  At this point I’ve given up trying to understand, and just accept that our garden will give us pumpkins where and when it chooses. I’ve always been a student of Candide, and I know when my garden is trying to teach me something.

But what is it trying to teach me? That we’re not in control – that nature always bats last? Maybe the virtue of stepping up, of ourselves being unasked for volunteers. I don’t know. It’s like the trying to suss out the real meaning of omens before a Greek battle. The literature is full of them. Okay, the raven flew to the east with a twig of olive in its beak and landed on a myrtle tree. That clearly means Cambyses has transgressed the natural law on the separation of nations and will die of gangrene from a poke on the knee of his own sword while in Egypt. Obviously.


And me – I’ve been a slacker, and my neglected garden is overrun with pumpkins. So what does this tell me? That I’m not making nearly enough pumpkin pie. Obviously. The gods have spoken – it’s time to start baking.

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