(previously printed in the Sept. 2007 High Prairian)
Late last summer, a dear 40-something friend from the city, came to visit High Prairie. Amongst her house gifts, was an elderly Zucchini squash, approaching the volume of a midsize Komodo dragon, with the weight and consistency of a seasoned chunk of oak. After an awkward “Gee .. Thanks.” chuckling to myself, I set it aside to “keep” in the utility room and reminded myself to cut her some slack, because she’s just learning to garden and cook. Having yet to learn that in most cases; zuchs and gardener’s equal coal and Newcastle.
Our friend, is also an inveterate “re-gifter”, so I wondered how many times this fossilized vegetable may been exchanged? Like the legendary hundred year old Christmas Fruit Cake? Had some other gardener taken advantage of her inexperience? The dark black- green rind had a polished, around-theblock patina. I decided to take it as a compliment that she believed I could do something with it.
In our own garden by that time of year, we also had some reptilian sized zucchinis that had managed to avoid detection. They had stems that looked like it would take some kind of special power tool to cut them loose from the mother plant.
So after our friend left, I decided to face my dragons and amassed the whole clutch on the front porch, arranging the High Prairie Clan and Gift Squash in a “display”. Kind of like guardians of the gate. The Zuch Stops Here! I have to admit, all together they were impressive. Giving me fleeting thoughts of opening up a roadside attraction along with a self serve pie stand. The sun, solitude and natural beauty of this place does funny things to my mind sometimes.
The squash installation remained on the porch until after the first hard frost. Then I gathered them up and buried their sagging, half thawed bodies in the garden to compost over the winter.
This year, my husband and I were in for a lesson in the humiliation and betrayal of gardening hubris. The ideal growing conditions of the last season had given us an over inflated sense of our gardening abilities. Last year, seeds just hit the ground and grew like crazy. This spring seemed to be much cooler and the first seeds we planted just refused to germinate. After several replantings, my husband and I were starting to get a bit depressed, but we stubbornly kept trying to get our garden going. The seeds that finally sprouted and survived were scraggly but alive.
One morning, while making my rounds through the tomato rows I spotted a feral seedling. A hardy looking volunteer zucchini had pushed its way up through many inches of rotted straw and compost. It dawned on me, that this was the very place I had buried my Gift, the one I had laughed at, composted, and forgotten. It was way ahead of the other struggling seedlings we’d planted three times over in proper hills, and the first to produce a little squash.
When we ate that first tender zucchini, sliced and sautéed, on top of a steaming bed of rice, I thought of our dear friend now living thousands of miles away. We were dinning on our first home grown vegetable of the season and this time I was truly thankful!