Oh!—fruit loved of boyhood!—the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!**
Every October, a nearby farm family celebrates the harvest by opening up their land to the surrounding community. Hundreds of cars converge, parking in empty fields, and thousands of people traipse across pumpkin patches, testifying to the power that the earth still holds over us.
And what joy to swirl around 360 degrees, surrounded by wide open fields, with acres of bright orange pumpkins glistening in the hot noon sun.
Tractors huff and puff by, breaking the peace of the moment, hauling people back and forth from the main road to the fields, churning up clouds of pale brown dust.
At the top of a slight rise, I look over a sprawling field dotted with even more orange orbs. Hazy blue mountains frame the sky. And then, my eye pulls away from the horizon. I notice something that doesn’t become apparent until the end of the growing season, at the harvest. Large green leaves – characteristic of most squash plants – usually hide the snaking vines connecting the pumpkins to their mother plant, like vast networks of umbilical cords.
But when the earth says, “Enough,” and the sun fades in the sky, plants wither and animals slow down, gathering strength for what could be starving times.
Yards and yards of pale green vines cover the ground, twisting through the pumpkins. I only need to lean down and pick up whatever pumpkin calls to me. How to choose among the hundreds of specimens lying expectantly in the dirt? The farmer had conveniently cut the pumpkins from the vines, stopping growth, making things manageable for the agritourists like me.
The large gaping maw of a rotting pumpkin stops me in my tracks. What a contrast between it and the others still brimming with life.
I bend down to better see the destruction, the putrefaction. The slimy, oozing kind. I long for a few paper towels. Then I could touch the center of this once majestic vegetable, now reduced to melting like the Wicked Witch of the West.
I choose none, dreading the walk back to the road bogged down by the weight of a pumpkin that would only do what nature intended, spoil unless eaten, wasting away.
When I return home, I ponder the significance of autumn for me, free of the frantic urge to preserve food against decay demonstrated by that pumpkin. And I sense once more the struggle of my ancestors as they coped with the cycles of life, illuminated both by light and darkness.
**John Greenleaf Whittier wrote “The Pumpkin” in 1850.
© 2012 C. Bertelsen