Pumpkins, pumpkins, PUMPKINS


YOU don't need to be a farmer to know this is the pumpkin time of year. And while I've always been dutiful about joining my children in the annual selection of just the right specimens to be hacked into jack-o'-lanterns, this year has been different. For some reason I have pumpkins on the brain.

One local school has already sponsored a fall dance called the Pumpkin Polka, while community bulletin boards everywhere announce pumpkin festivals. Still in the fields along the road as I drive to work, those ever-larger, gravity-bound gourds refuse to leave my thoughts.

Earlier in the fall, I visited with a friend, and, as is his custom, he walked me to his garden as we talked. He pointed out corn and squash and peppers and three varieties of tomatoes while we caught up on our lives since we last surveyed the abundant gifts of soil and sweat. As he elevated his sights to point out the towering sunflowers, stripped seedless by the birds, my gaze settled on the giants resting at my feet amid a snarl of leaf and vine.

They -- the Atlantic giant pumpkins -- were huge and almost frightening as they sat there asserting a strange, still power.

"My Lord," I exhaled, not intending an allusion to their creation.

"Big suckers, aren't they?" my friend rejoined with a tone more matter-of-fact than proud. All I could add to the observation was something about how heavy they must be, and we moved on to his berry patch.

But as we walked back to the house, it was not the lingering flavor of berries or the sheer abundance of corn or tomatoes that urged a last glance over my shoulder; it was the pumpkins.

Since that day, my thoughts have been with pumpkins. I think of Washington Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow," with its pumpkin-hurling headless horseman, and the fate of Cinderella's coach at the witching hour. Pumpkins appear in dozens of children's book titles from classics like "The Pumpkin Patch" to a recent release titled "The Dancing Pumpkin." The pumpkin's entry into the child's garden of interest is early, and its appeal is unquestionable.

Yet identifying the pumpkin's intriguing ubiquity seemed to take me no closer to its unshakable imposition on my thoughts. So just when I began to worry about the possible psychological implications of this pumpkin fixation, I found a small book in the nature section of my library.

In "A Kid's First Book of Gardening" I found a couple of simple facts that helped me understand. First, the Atlantic giant pumpkin can grow to an extraordinary weight of 600 pounds (enough pie filling to tilt the scales with a blue-ribbon hog). Second, to achieve that weight, the pumpkin finishes its growth cycle by gaining six pounds per day while extracting gallons of water from the earth. Astounding!

So there in the little book lay the key to my obsession: the simple, fascinating enormity of the fruit.

"Big suckers, aren't they?" my friend had observed. And that is also the wisdom of it, right there on the ground, where it has been all along, this huge miracle of garden growth, most worthy of our seasonal celebration, the grand harvest of orange, in all of its majestic proportion, soon to be just so many dents in the field until next year.

William M. Waters writes from Norrisville.

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