“Most plants thrive on animal waste, but I’m afraid this mutation possesses an appetite for the animal itself. ” Day of the Triffids

I don’t think I’ve adequately described the viney nightmare in our backyard. Back in 2006, I raised a 120 pound pumpkin. This  year I have five of what look like 100-pounders or more. Didn’t do much more than plant the seeds, spread a little compost, and walk away. But that’s all that pumpkins really need. I tried to clip a few of the vines and bury the ends in the ground, but more and more kept springing forth, like the proverbial hydra. On Saturday my photographer friend Kathy is stopping by with a real camera to commemorate the madness. I’m looking forward to it.

By the way, this vine managed to vault over a lilac bush and latch onto the bird feeder. What? How? Why? It is known but to God.

Sad Pumpkin

We decided to grow pumpkins again this year (see here for the previous, Frankensteinian results from 2006). When you grow pumpkins on a half acre of land, you’d best be ready to do without, well, area. If you let them, the damn vines stretch out over 20 feet (or more) in all directions. In 2006, we let the vines run havok. This year we were more circumspect—for naught. While the vines haven’t taken over the entire yard, they’d appropriated our picnic table and porch. We’ve let it go because the pumpkin plant has created not one but two pumpkins this year that promise to be colossal gourd-golems.

What we didn’t expect was this:

Can you see it? Let me get closer.

Camouflaged and hanging from a scrappy vine that climbed the fence between our yard and our neighbor’s, a pumpkin grew three feet above the ground. I guesstimated it at about 15–20 pounds. Mike saw it while weeding and pruning, and asked if I could try to either cut it down or recover it. I didn’t look forward to doing either. Cutting it down was the same as signing its death warrant and consigning it to damnatio memoriae as far as Halloween is concerned (“Fence pumpkin? There was no fence pumpkin, comrade. Do not let such thoughts trouble you further.”). Recovering it (i.e., helping it down to the ground was tricky. The pumpkin chose to grow right behind a thorny rose bush, so that would require long sleeves and gloves on a 95° day. I also had to make sure I didn’t crush any of the surrounding vines, otherwise I might cut off water and nourishment to the survivors. What’s more, I figured the thing was only being held up by wishes and hopes and dreams.

I crept near it and was dismayed to see that much of the vine had been shredded, no doubt because of the weight. Even if I somehow severed all the tendrils hooking the pumpkin vine to the fence, I still needed two extra hands to catch the damn thing. I’ve only got the two. Wait, one… two… Right, two.

“This might be a two-person job,” I said to Mike. “But I have no idea how you’d get over here.” I was already pressed against the fence, thorns digging into my jeans and field jacket, slowly baking my brains out as I negotiated the pumpkin’s reclamation.

I’ll save a step and say there’s no happy ending. By Priapus, it was a beautiful beast. If I could have saved it I would have. Hanging in mid-air, gravity gave it a pleasingly round shape (pumpkins that grow on the ground need to be maneuvered onto their bottom parts, otherwise they turn into melting, flat-sided monstrosities. I joked with Mike that we should take a cue from the vineyards and build pumpkin trellises. We’d just have to wear hard hats while cultivating them.

I tried, I promise you. I tried. I took my jackknife and clipped a tendril from a rose branch. So far, so good. As I assessed my next step, I reached forward and lightly grazed the surface of the pumpkin as I attempted to position myself to guide it down gently after cutting the next tendril.

It went something like this. I believe my exact words were, “AGGGGH!”

The vine snapped and the suspended squash walloped the ground. Amazingly, there was no damage, but it was still immature and, let’s face it, 76 days away from serving any useful purpose. Also, if you didn’t know it, Jack O’Lantern pumpkins aren’t eating pumpkins. They’re too fibrous and hollow. Sigh.

Farewell, fence pumpkin! Your brothers and sisters of the vine will honor you, come Hallow’s Eve!

Also, you were hilarious.