VERNON COUNTY - When I hear the words “Come, there’s something I want to show you,” my heart rate speeds up. Anticipation washes over me, starting at my feet and bubbling out the top of my head—or so I imagine.
I have said these words to Dane before—showing him a hoard of round turtle eggs in the back pasture uncovered by a flood, the bright orange beaks of baby swallows waiting for their mom to come feed them, or the magnificent Queen of the Prairie flowers I once stumbled upon in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve.
Dane has said these same words to show me a huge snapping turtle that made its way to my mailbox, a Little Free Library in the middle of nowhere, or the first pasque flower of the season, hidden in a nook on his farm.
On a quiet morning about a year ago, when my valley was still heavy with fog, the grass wet with dew, and spider webs glistening, I was busy with morning chores when Dane walked up from the creek saying those intoxicating words: “Come, there’s something I want to show you.” He grabbed my hand and together we walked through tall grasses, over logs, branches, and rocks that were out of place since the recent flooding, dodging the ducks and geese that were following along, curious as to where we were going.
Dane was pointing toward the ground. I had to look twice before I glimpsed a patch of orange peeking out from under heavy green vines. I squealed with excitement, “Pumpkins!” I hadn’t planted pumpkins. As Dane uncovered more pumpkins my excitement grew. “Where did these come from?” Dane pointed out the ever-growing compost pile from Louisa the pig and the ever-growing flock of ducks and geese that hang out there. Volunteer pumpkins, compliments of my pumpkin-eating animal family!
We each carried a smooth, perfect pumpkin back to the house and set it on the porch rail. Later we took the wheelbarrow back to gather the rest. These unexpected pumpkins were one of my greatest highlights of 2016.
I've been eagerly watching the compost pile this spring and summer, waiting for new volunteers. First come the telltale vines, next the beginnings of the sweet flower, until finally a full orange blossom appears.
For the first time since living here, I mowed a path to the compost pile, ultimately ending at the little pool in the creek we call the Hidey Hole. Faithfully I’ve followed that path this year, in downpours with my rain jacket keeping me dry, through the mud with my rubber boots protecting me, and on gorgeous sunny mornings still in my favorite red house slippers.
My drives this fall—to and from work on Highway 56 toward Richland Center, or in the other direction heading out to Sidie Hollow for a hike, or going through Coon Valley on the way to La Crosse—have been rich with sightings of pumpkins for sale. Pumpkins in the back of old trucks, pumpkins on flat wagon beds, and pumpkins in enormous corrals made with wood frames. Usually, they are priced by size: one dollar for the smallest, three bucks for the largest, and two for anything in the middle.
I find myself tempted to stop when I see all these roadside pumpkins, but there is no need. I feel like I’m going to burst with the secret anticipation of this year’s compost-pile pumpkins. I imagine joyful pumpkins flying out from the top of my head as I do the happy look-we-have-pumpkins dance.
On my most recent walk down the now somewhat overgrown path, I can hardly keep from skipping. Today, I’m sure there will be pumpkins. I can see the patch, the twisted green vines, and the deflated orange pumpkin blossoms, but I still can’t see the pumpkins. I search high and low, under and over, and to the other side of the compost pile. No pumpkins.
Slowly, it dawns on me: Louisa has managed to re-eat all her recycled pumpkins before they became adults. Like the blossoms on the vines, I feel myself deflate. I try to remind myself, as I slog back up to the house, that this too is a surprise. I smile, thinking of what kind of fence I'll need to put up next year and how surprised Louisa will be when she finds it.