All gardeners are optimists: what squirrels reminded me about conflict resolution

Feral pumpkin plant growing in my yard - photo take August 1 2008 in my front yardLate last fall, Halloween and Thanksgiving behind us and the long winter looming ahead, I left two large pumpkins at the foot of the old pine at the bend in the drive. They were a gift to the neighborhood squirrels, who go crazy for seeds from any kind of squash. Hunger makes them bold, and they have even crept right up on the front steps, glancing furtively over their shoulders, right under the nose of our dog, to steal the small pumpkins that sit by the door. I’ve discovered the evidence of the crime later in the backyard, the orange rinds in shreds and a few stray seeds scattered in the leaves.

The squirrels, and other creatures we hear only when twilight falls, made short work of the pumpkins. Soon there was nothing left but the stems, and even those disappeared the following night.

Despite the thoroughness of the squirrels and raccoons, a few seeds were evidently overlooked. A month ago, I noticed, poking out between the stone border edging the irises and the asphalt drive, what was clearly a pumpkin seedling. My first impulse was to pull it up, and I reached down to uproot it. But then something made me stop and leave it be.

Somehow it has taken root in the hard dirt between rock and asphalt, and against all odds, it grows, unfolding its blossoms and spreading out leaves to reach the sun.

Conflict is like that, I think. It is the hard places inside us, the rock wall laid down stone by stone, the asphalt paving that divides one house from the next.

Yet somehow, tenaciously, hope puts down roots, growing up between the cracks. Blossoms, stems, leaves, roots, it stretches from the shadows and reaches high to gain the light.

6 responses to “All gardeners are optimists: what squirrels reminded me about conflict resolution

  1. Beautiful Diane. Perhaps none of us will ever write that “novel inside us” but blogging has given a few of us the privilege of reading the poetry in some of us. Truly. This is one of the most beautiful posts I’ve read anywhere ever and remember — I edit a literary journal. xxoo Vickie

  2. Vickie, my friend, I am so touched by your kind words! It’s funny, because this was one of those posts that came to me out of the blue as I stood in my front yard very early this morning, looking at the pumpkin vine struggling along the ground. Sometimes that’s the best way to write — when inspiration flashes. If only it happened more often!

    Thank you, Vickie, for your generous spirit!

  3. Very profound post. But the struggling chef in me is left wondering what to do with the bounty. Maybe pluck the blossoms, stuff them with a ricotta mixture and fry them? Let the pumpkins grow and make a nice autumn soup? You[‘ve inspired me, but not likely in the way you intended!

  4. Okay, Chris, I admit it. After my profoundly poetic moment in my driveway in the early light of dawn, my next thought was way more prosaic — indeed, worthy of Homer Simpson himself:

    “Mmmmm. Squash blossoms…”

  5. Thank you for your insightful thoughts. Within every seed is the instinct to survive. Yet, that instinct can in many situations be overcome with fear of the potential outcome that we might not survive. These are the times we are most human. . .and most fragile. We give in to the notion that competition, avoidance, or accommodation are our only solutions. So many sane opportunities for the resolution of interpretations of conflict exist. The answer lies in overcoming fear.

  6. Debra, thanks for building on the metaphor I began with. I agree that often fear is a stopping point — we fear change, we fear the unknown, we fear uncertainty, but most of all we fear confrontation. It’s why so many people avoid conflict in the first place. It’s hard-wired into us.