Pecan Pie…Or Not; A Natural Disappointment

There’s a dream tree in my back yard. The tree was bare when we moved into our house last fall, but as soon as the leaves started budding this spring I started day dreaming about the pecan pies my wife would (hopefully) bake this fall with the bounty of our back yard dream tree. My wife makes the best pecan pie I’ve ever tasted. It rivals even Amish recipes, of which I’ve tried several, and found they all pale next to hers. I’m convinced that she has been divinely touched to make a pie that could beat the offerings of such a very devout and down-to-earth, tradition rich folk.

I was convinced of that until this year, anyway. Maybe it isn’t her, though. Perhaps I am the one who is cursed. After all, she could still make the pie…if she had the pecans, that is. Let me explain:

Just a few short weeks ago the tree was so heavy with pecans that I couldn’t walk under it without leaves brushing the top of my head. I’d feel the tickles on my scalp and the top of my ears and think about everything they meant. The branches are heavy with nuts. They’ll soon be ripe. They are hanging so low that I’ll barely have to work to get them! Then, one fateful day, I was in my garden checking on my ghost peppers, tomatoes and pumpkins. I heard a chittering sound and something that certainly wasn’t a leaf hit me on the head.

I thought perhaps a bird had made me its bathroom, but no such luck. I patted my head and, my when my hand came away unbefouled, I looked up at the tree just in time to catch a bit of the green covering that encases pecans in my eye. For the next few days every trip to the garden was an adventure as a squad of special forces squirrels scampered around the upper branches of my tree, dropping natural bombs on me and screeching at me when I threw the projectiles back into the foliage. I even released my hounds in the hopes that their size would be enough to scare the thieves off, but alas, my baying hounds were reduced to whimpering scaredy dogs at the hands of these efficient intruders.

And so, out of options, I resigned myself to losing my pecans. The squirrel squad stayed in the upper branches, audible but barely visible, so I allowed myself to believe they’d leave the lower ones for me. Or perhaps not even notice them. No such luck though. I had about three weeks to keep dreaming pecan pie dreams, but this morning I stepped out and immediately noticed that the branches were hanging much higher than they had been.

Not a pecan to be found. And the surreptitious squirrels had also vanished. Where is the love? If they were going to steal my pie fixings the least they could do would be to stick around so I could watch them chase each other around the tree trunk. I got the message. I’m a pecan tree haver to them. Nothing more and nothing less. I guess it’s ok though. I can stand to lose some weight anyway and from what I understand they’ll need to gain some for the winter.

Maybe it’s a symbiosis after all.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…appreciate your animal neighbors, even if they seem nefarious at times.

A don’t…bother making room for skunks. There’s no benefit at all to be had from them.

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The Haunted Garden

I see them sometimes through the kitchen window. A flash of green when the wind blows just right or a glimpse of brilliant red-orange as the setting sun catches one off guard. They are odd, for ghosts. Whereas most ghosts are described as cold to the touch these are quite oppositely hot. And, as I learned the other day, they are mostly benign until you work up the courage to disturb them.

I encouraged the haunting on purpose. I literally cultivated it. I waited patiently through the long summer watching them mature through their otherworldly stages of pale yellow-green to a deep, verdant green to orange and finally, two days ago, one exuded the most shockingly vibrant shade of red I’ve ever seen. It was still a bit green at the tip so I begrudgingly gave it an extra day.

That night my dreams were haunted by the ghost of what could’ve been. I could’ve made salsa that day. I’ve been dreaming of making salsa ever since I first set out my onions and hardened off my tomato plants. These ghosts I grew were the last bit I needed to satisfy my hunger for a fresh, homegrown sauce with a luscious kick. I tossed and turned and hoped and, finally, slept a time-killing sleep.

A noble virtue is patience, usually, however this time it did not reward me. When I went out yesterday to pick the first ripe pepper of the season I saw that I had been beaten to the fruit by some sort of burrowing bug.  I pronounced many curses upon it and, out of spite, picked the pepper to deprive the pest of further enjoyment. I found an untouched bit near the stem and defiantly tore it away. I touched my tongue to the juice on the ragged edge of the tear…

…And quickly realized that the curses I placed upon the bug were moot. That creature had cursed itself and I had now also fallen victim to the curse of  Bhut Jolokia. I pronounced, then, many counter curses to no avail. I hacked and spat and struggled to breath. My pores wept. My every breath haunted my tongue as the air supplied the ghost new fuel with which to burn. I tried many things to exorcise it. I tried to breath through my nose. Thanks to the curse of seasonal allergies, though, the nose that had been plugged as if with a cork mere moments before was now draining like a bottle of champagne after the cork has been popped. I gnawed on bread and guzzled the holy water of the pepper world, whole milk. All for naught.

Upon my eventual recovery I counted the peppers I had left. Nearly thirty. Thirty ghosts hanging silently, eerily upon the plant. The very sight was terrifying. Perhaps they’d make good Halloween décor, I supposed. I could hang them under a sign that says BOO! Anyone familiar with these particular ghosts would run screaming at the sight.

In the end, though, I know what will happen. I’ll harvest them. I’ll make salsa. I’ll eat it. I’ll share it with friends. And enemies. I’ll suffer. I’ll scream. I’ll counter curse and exorcise.

I’ll do it all again next year. I’ve read a lot about the benefits of peppers. Whether it is true or not the fun of spice is, to me, as fun as being horrified. I’ve spent many a sleepless night haunted by movies or books or stories told by friends. And though I’m regretful in the morning it isn’t long before I again crave the novelty of terror.

My haunted garden is scary. But amongst its benefits are the destruction of monotony and the opportunity to try to “beat” a fearful pepper.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…face your fears. Even if takes a lifetime to beat them, you’ll learn something about yourself every time.

A don’t…forget the importance of a little spice, in your cooking specifically and life in general.

P.S…a don’t…think that the cheesiness and cliché of the last few lines is lost on my. This has been a traumatic re-telling and my brain has become fearful of going deeper on the subject.

Living Jack-O-Lanterns; In Answer to Why I Say Why Not.

The picture above is of a budding pumpkin. It is the first to have appeared in my garden and is of a variety that boasts the ability to grow to upwards of half a ton if properly cultivated. I don’t hold any misconceptions about my first attempt being successful at growing it to maximum size, but my research shows that this variety of pumpkin consistently produces fruits that weigh a few hundred pounds. If I can successfully grow just an average pumpkin of this variety, which I now realize I haven’t mentioned is called Dill’s Atlantic Giant, it should be sufficient to satisfy my goals.

Goal one is to make a living Jack-O-Lantern. I’ll hollow it, carve it, coat the inside with something to control the slime factor, then place my kids inside with flashlights. Not only will I have the first ever (as far as I’m aware, anyway) living Jack-O-Lantern with the potential for responsive lighting, I’ll also have the first Jack-O-Lantern that I know of with intuitive sound effects. I think that the kids will enjoy this greatly. They can pop out and scare people and just have a generally entertaining Halloween experience.

Goal two is to figure out what to do with the pumpkin shell after the holiday. I need an idea that doesn’t involve carrying it anywhere. So far I’ve entertained a few ideas for using it as a planter. I could either coat it with some sort of resin and attempt to make a permanent pot or just fill it with dirt and let it serve as a planter that will also provide some food to the plant I plant in it as it rots away.

Perhaps, if my neighbors don’t begin to complain, I can turn it into some sort of time lapse art project. Or it could serve as a combination bird bath/street side urinal for the homeless. This is the least desirable of all, so I hope one of the other ideas will work.

I likely wont have to worry about any of this at all because my green thumb is more brown with a greenish tinge.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…try new things even if you expect only very limited success.

A don’t…pee in my pumpkin if I am somehow successful.