Monday, September 08, 2008

In the Garden

My pumpkin rotted on the vine. I noticed it had a soft spot last week and yesterday, it had collapsed in on itself. I had placed so much hope in that pumpkin, such promise that it would be a perfect and wonderful thing. Nature had other ideas. I picked it, sadly, and started to carry it out back to die in the compost bin, but it was too late for the pumpkin even to do that. It exploded in my arms, all over the driveway. A liquid mess.

Frank, the Italian man from across the street, came out to see what had happened. He sighed, told me the vine had a fungus and it was too late. I needed to dig the whole thing up and get it out of there or it would hurt the other nearby plants. He pointed to the blossoms and told me back where he came from, they used to pick the blossoms, dip them in batter, and fry them up. Something good to come of the mess. He saw my sad face and told me he would surprise me with a treat: fresh figs.

I dug up the vine while he went to get the fruit from his own garden. I saw, clinging to the trellis behind the pumpkins, a praying mantis. A female, giant and brown. I had never seen anything like it before. Frank came back with the figs and I ate them. They were so sweet and soft, also like nothing I've ever had. He showed me how to pull the stem right off and just bite into the delicate flesh. Figs are too fragile to ship to stores, he told me. They are so challenging to grow because of our weather here, but Frank does it ever year. He has to cover them and prune them and treat the tree like an infant in order to get the figs every September.

He looked at the mantis and told me in Italy, they'll kill all the grasshoppers and spiders they see, but never touch the mantis. They call them "la fata" which means fairy. She is mystical, untouchable. Dangerous.

A dead pumpkin, a forbidden fruit, and a powerful female bug in my front yard on one Sunday morning. It felt like a summation of my past few months: the end of a really difficult graduate experience that had such promise and great results, but also a fungus spreading through it. The temptation of the life I've always dreamed I'd have, challenging and rare and only possible as a result of laborious attention to detail. And a reminder that as delicate and delicious as our dreams might be, it's dangerous to get to complacent. Something (pride, haste, hesitation, impatience, republicans...something) might rear up and bite the head off my plans.

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