Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Gleaning Gourds

Sometimes the smallest experience can take me to the deepest place.

Last fall, I happened to host our water board meeting in my dining room which had been loosely decorated by grandchildren with pumpkins, gourds of various types and sizes and other reminders of the loveliness of autumn. Our board president remarked on my collection of gourds and invited me out to where he works on Mercer Farms the next fall to gather my own gourds.

This week, I drove out near Crow Butte to this amazing corporate farm where the onion harvest was in full swing. The morning was hazy, crisp and chilly; and the view was absolutely expansive! Montana's Big Sky Country has nothing on Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington. As far as I could see were corporate farm crop circles -- each one a different color planted with a different food and in a different stage of production -- growing, waiting, stubble, fallow, newly harvested and other stages about which I know absolutely nothing.

As I neared the onion staging area, a big white pickup came boiling up the dirt road, a huge cloud of dust whirling, gulping and butterfly-stroking behind it. Unlike stop-and-go city ways, there was no stopping of this pickup. Todd did not slow as he signaled me to follow him, and away we went into the maze of dust and circles. I slowed as he slowed, and we emerged together on the road around a potato circle resting and ready for harvest but cluttered with the unmistakable foliage of unwanted and volunteer gourd plants. It seems they had once been planted in this circle and had refused to be denied even since.

I hopped across row after row of buried and waiting potatoes as we examined the various kinds of gourds which were growing here. As Todd left and returned to working and his pickup boiled away in a cloud of dust, I began picking and filling the seven huge white buckets he had left for me. When one was finally full, I could barely lift it into the back of the Subaru.

I was so excited as I found gourd after gourd -- every plant sporting a different variety in the same crop circle. There were tiny orange and tiny white pumpkin gourds. There were light green ones shaped like pears -- some smooth, some striped, some covered with wonderful warts. There were two-toned green and orange gourds of four different shapes, white cannon balls with crooked stems, and something tan with horns. I just kept picking, packing, lugging, lifting, and enjoying every minute of this rare experience. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with all of these gourds, but they were just too beautiful to leave there. Besides, they were bound for destruction the very next week -- their vines would be ripped from the potato circle so as not to invade it again. So I picked with reckless abandon. I was so reluctant to leave this beautiful place with its gigantic "ant farm" of food harvest going on everywhere around me. I had no idea that a corporate farm would be, well, beautiful!

When I arrived home with my seven huge buckets of colorful gourds and began washing them and lining them up to dry on my retaining walls and my porch, I realized just how many I had rescued. A rough estimate brought me to 350+.

I brought some inside the house, packed some boxes for my daughter to take to her school, took bags of gourds to the neighbors, and watched my grandson sort, classify, and create armies of gourds as he played on the front porch. Every time I looked at one of those little gourds, I could picture that field that stretched clear to the horizon and was interrupted only by the irrigation arms or a harvesting machine or a conveyer surrounded by human helpers sorting in clouds of white onion skins.

Sometimes the smallest experience can take me on a vast inner adventure.

1 comment:

b said...

Norah, I loved it. 350 gourds and, well, you. It seems just the perfect balance. I would bet that by the end of the week you will have found a home for at least half of them.

Then you can let them mold and dry and create bird houses galore.