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Cucurbit Chaos

One of my long-term goals has been to organize my metaphorical chaos drawer. 

I have never wanted to be a super-organizer like Martha Stewart. I would be happy to have just a bit more order to smooth out the ragged edges of life’s disarray. 

Some of this disorder isn’t my fault. When our area was hit by a derecho – followed a few weeks later by a tornado – it was clear that chaos had won the day. In my case, that trendy new activity called “decluttering” required the use of chainsaws, payloaders, and some heavy earthmoving equipment. 

I bet Martha doesn’t have any of that stuff sitting around in in her tidy little garden shed. 

I’ve tried more than once to fight the randomness that inevitably creeps into life, like a mouse who sneaks into your wife’s sock drawer and makes himself at home. But unlike your wife, who will elicit a shriek and an expletive when the little varmint peeks out from beneath a pile of hosiery, the arrival of chaos is seldom a surprise to me. 

It’s gotten to the point where I expect it.

One of my recent efforts to combat chaos took place this spring when I planted our garden. I tidily marked where each vine vegetable was planted with little red flags. Within half an hour our dog, Bella, had removed most of the flags and redistributed them randomly throughout the garden. Bella operates on the belief that the entire planet is her playpen.

In the end, it didn’t matter where the flags had been placed because the pumpkins, gourds, and squash didn’t pay any mind to the borders. They went wherever they pleased, even though none of them had the proper documentation.

We recently, received our first killing frost of autumn. The garden was transformed overnight from an unbroken canopy of emerald, elephant ear-like leaves, to a plant-based version of the Hindenburg disaster. 

Oh, the vegetation!

But it was also a clear signal that harvest time was at hand.I backed the pickup down to the garden and began to pick things up.
Soon, chaos reigned. 

Some of the roving gourds had snuck off into the tall grass and had babies there. Many of the squash had found novel ways to violate territorial boundaries, and I found several pumpkins that had wedged themselves into some really weird places.
It was like an Easter egg hunt, except there was no candy involved. As it went on, I continued to find yet another trove of black pumpkins and Technicolor gourds.
I soon concluded I would have to call up my big guns for pumpkin collecting: my trusty John Deere 3010. 

Hundreds of steps were saved as I trundled cucurbits into the 3010’s loader bucket. I was even able to exert a tiny bit of order onto the chaos by arranging the fruits by color and size. This orderliness quickly devolved into a muddled jumble when I offloaded the loader’s cargo into the bed of the pickup.
Next came the fun part and the reward for my labors: my wife and I loaded up our car and went off to play pumpkin fairies.
As the pumpkin fairies, we visit relatives and friends of ours each October and leave colorful pumpkins, gourds, and squash on their doorsteps. It’s like trick-or-treating in reverse. 

Here again, randomness rules. There’s no system, no rhyme or reason as to why someone gets these splashy gourds or those warty pumpkins. But having no system is also a system. 

Sort of.

When we dropped off a bunch of decorative fall fruits at my sister Jane’s house, she said, “The neighbor lady across the street has two boys. Could they have some too?”

I glanced at the collection of cucurbits that appeared to encompass several metric tons and said, “Sure. Tell them to come over and help themselves.” 

The lady and her youngest son soon arrived. I would guess that he was about seven years old – a prime age for everything Halloween, especially carving pumpkins.

The boy shyly hid his face behind his mom’s leg. After a small amount of encouragement, he chose an orange pumpkin that had more warts than the world’s scariest witch.

As the lad and his mom walked across the street, he glanced back over his shoulder, wearing a grin wider than any jack-o’-lantern.

That brief moment was completely random. It’s certainly not what I envisioned last summer as I watered and weeded the pumpkin patch. 

I guess I should just make peace with chaos, because there are times when a little randomness can be utterly delightful.

About the Author

Jerry Nelson

Jerry Nelson and his wife, Julie, live in Volga, South Dakota, on the farm that Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s. Daily life on that farm provided fodder for a long-running weekly newspaper column, “Dear County Agent Guy,” which become a book of the same name. Dear County Agent Guy is available at


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