Page 2 of 2
It is Labor Day and as I start to work in the pumpkin field – old times come flooding back. These memories speak of times when all the acreage across the road was full of the bright orange orbs and working out in the slight change of season was a welcome event. This was before parenthood and woodchucks found my husband and me I can’t remember when we decided to not sell pumpkins anymore. It could have been when the huge Amish family moved in six miles down the road and put in a crop. And with their low overhead and penchant for incredibly hard work, it was an easy decision to make. By then though, our place was known as the pumpkin house – even today I am reminded of this when I give out my address “Oh, you live in the pumpkin house. We took a field trip to your pumpkin patch in 4th grade.” Even as I write this I am forced to smile. I’ve always loved pumpkins; bright orange orbs of pleated happiness. Planting, weeding, curing and harvesting have given me good foundation in teaching and parenting. I have learned that the huge, bright orange ball in the center of the field – the one that screams perfection causing me to run headlong to the field’s center is, more often than not, hiding something that could rot the entire endeavor if left unchecked. I know too not to ignore the ones that stay green longer than their neighbors – even those sprouting from the same hill. No two are alike – ever. I am smiling too at the memory of my son – a baby still, not quite a year bundled and propped up between two pumpkins about his size and weight as he sucks happily on a bottle. By his second year he is out in the field with us, his wagon wheels dragging the entangled vines that somehow do not trip him as he attempts to lift (always) the biggest pumpkin he could get his young arms around.
We used to take our bright orange product into town and Wegman’s supermarket that took everything we could get to them but we stopped after one year. An anti-capitalist move I suppose but nothing, nothing could be worth the smile on the face of the two-old girl working her little fingers around two smaller pumpkins. “If she can carry them she can have them –said her mother,” Or my seven-year-old son proudly sitting atop a pile of orange beauties he and his dad brought to the sorting area. It was easier to put our own signs up – one and two dollar piles – three- dollars for the giants. Many a weekend writing time was spent listening to the trill of the valley’s young forever in search of the perfect pumpkin. And perfection in pumpkins, as in children, is relative. Yes, there may be a few woodchuck bites but with a bit of artistic nurturing (carving?) these scars can harden into a creative scar tissue that in adulthood will be called wisdom. It has been almost 20 years since our last serious pumpkin crop and today the bright orange beauty screaming perfection from the center of the field does not seduce me. History tells a different truth. And by the time I’ve moved to the center, cutting and setting encouraging pumpkins to the side, I can see the gaping hole in what had, earlier, shrieked for my attention.
Our sales policy too has changed; we will not be putting out the old coffee cans suggesting a dependence on the honor of strangers. In fact that last year we sold pumpkins was the first year we had to use a locked box – anchored to a table. Up to that point it had been eight years of honest human interaction. Did everyone always pay? No. But I still have the notes from those of reduced circumstances conferring blessings and good karma upon us and our household for providing pumpkins. One event that stands out occurred on a Friday evening just before Halloween – a young father knocked on our front door wanting to know if we had any pumpkins left. He had been driving by our house all week, to and from work, hoping there would pumpkins left on this, his payday. That year we sold out early – (even the blemished ones) and my heart sank when I looked at the empty side lawn and the thought of his sad six-year-old at home just waiting for a pumpkin to carve. I left the young father at the door to collect two pumpkins from our personal carving stash on the back deck. I handed him the two pumpkins and refused his money. This much happiness should not be for sale.
So, I anticipate another four to six weeks of pumpkin moving – this activity will certainly offset the zumba lessons I had promised to attend. In the past, moving, and handling pumpkins, I have on average lifted about 1000 to 1500 pounds in a good crop year. This season, maybe I’ll average a third of that – the labor of the woodchucks seems to have blessed me so.
I awake most mornings to a sense of deficiency; my mind is hard to move forward – like an old car with a slipping clutch. And I can’t sit in front of my computer anymore, put on my favorite music, and write down my heart. My words fail me – flooded as they are with anger derived from a Facebook stupidity or the NYT headlines. I know, I open that door every morning – I walk in thinking somehow things will be different, someone will upload some piece of information that does not require a fear of going to hell or total annihilation to act upon. It would be promising to see Times headlines speaking of peace in the Middle East, a true and peaceful blossoming Arab Spring. But no, truth is painful and half -truths are doubly painful. I am retired, five years now – and I am prepared to quit my part-time adjunct position at the local community college – a job only meant to ease my transition from 24 years of high school teaching. It has done its job. I sit on my deck now and watch the apples ripen on the ancient tree in the side yard – no it’s not like watching grass grow or paint dry because the growth of the apples signal a freshening of sorts, an advancing – of the deer and fall. It is unchanging – this seasonal slippage. It happens with no coaxing or caffeine induced rage. Unlike human nature, nature is separate – slipping the bounds of discovery and design. It is what it is – no more no less. My knees and back ache. Yes, you could say it is simply age but I like to think these aches come from years of struggling under the weight of why.
This week I began an online class offered by Coursera – A Brief History of Human Kind by professor Yuval Noah Harari who beams his talks from a chair in Israel to people as close as his Palestinian neighbors to hundreds if not thousands of students worldwide wanting to know the history of us. I’ve just completed session 1 which has moved me from why to how: If we spent so many thousands of years being hunted and eaten just how did we maintain our grasp (however slippery) on that middle link of survival only to move to the top of that monstrous food chain? As my professor said, we had no physical strength or size, no great teeth, claws or tough hide to protect us and yet here we are – god of all creatures great and small. I’m left thinking this accident of ascendance is because we are genetically wired to wage war and kill in mass quantities for purposes other than food. Maybe something as simple as thumbs…? – But the great apes are equipped with such – they can still be captured and enslaved. So, thumbs are out. Maybe we began using our brains – proportionally larger than other beasts – to better advantage. Whatever the case, I agreed with my professor that man was (and remains, in my view) ill equipped for his role at the top of the food chain.
So, after my first week of study, I’ve learned that cooperation within the species holds more weight than the phrase “survival of the fittest.” Indeed, according to professor Harari, because we have ascended so rapidly to the top of the food chain, we remain weak and vulnerable. So much so, we have the all-consuming need (for survival?) to fortify ourselves for protection (the fittest?). Harari likened early sapiens to ascendant albeit frightened lambs nervously scanning a shortened horizon for a leader. This suggests we are not really armed wolves fighting to survive but something far more dangerous – armed sheep.
My upper deck yields the timeless, touchable orb
Back home and sleepy
I see nothing of my worries on its face
My misery must be bending somewhere
Kneeling, in the black gaps provided by the arbor vitae trees,
in full supplication before this sweet full vanilla moon
I can hear life, at the sound of my screen door closing,
A darting, scattering to
A lightless safety
Hiding the heads of bunnies bumping together
In consternation caused by
The impenetrable garden fence
Bunnies don’t understand the science of immutability
With a lexicon fueled by the tender leaves of lettuce
They barter their bodies for change
Leaving me in brief study of Lorca
Living life in quiet desire, burning
With its greatest punishment
A body in service to fear
Selling remnants of material existence, but
Unlike the garden-bunnies, hiding in
Shadows of shame in incompleteness –
Smiling from the arms of flesh
Waiting for words to come – from the sun
Winter words have gone
Melted into the rain and mist
In a season that dares complaint –
Forcing – muddy
Solemn looks through paned windows
And the worm-fatted robins giving up
Their red breasts against the spring storm
I call the flowers to come
And color with their
Paint brush petals –
Swiping tints over my shortened horizon
A Spring – loud and honest
Quieting the hissing of time
That skulks behind the woodshed
Ignored, for now drowned
In the sun’s blaring bugle
Calling the shy pastel asters and
The State Fair zinnias
To summer’s hot stage