I found this stunning pumpkin at the farmers market a few days ago, its coral orange streaks against its not-quite-round, creamy white belly. What really made it stand out, though, was the still-attached vine, its leaves gracefully reaching out to display the shyly drooping blossom which had closed up, no doubt sensing the move from it’s days in a sun-drenched field. A lovely woman who regularly helps the weekly customers at this farmer’s stand was also marveling at the vine draped around the pumpkin and couldn’t believe no one had snatched it up yet (which of ‘course meant I HAD to have it). She shared with me that the blossom was still fully open when it was taken out of the field just the night before!
Home it came and I nestled it among a few multi-colored mums, a planter with the last of summer’s flowers and the basil plant that I need to harvest to make pesto. I had also purchased some smaller cousins to keep the prized pumpkin company and took a few photos to capture the lilt of the vine, knowing it would invariably wilt. As I played with pumpkin position and sunlight streaks, gently adjusting the impressive display of attached leaves, I started thinking about this vine beyond the autumn outdoor scene I was creating.
My imagination traveled to the field where it was planted, watered and nurtured by rain, sun and farmer. I could see it sitting on the back of the truck that morning, packed beside the corn, green beans, squash, tomatoes and the other just-picked fruits and vegetables, bouncing along the road all on their way to our town hall parking lot for the Thursday seasonal farmers market. That vine connected me more visually to the growing and harvesting process as I quietly honored all the people involved in bringing us the gifts of our earth that sustain us. I chuckled to myself, wondering how often the familiar gospel passage is uttered in fields and farmlands at this time of year:
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”
Matthew 9:37 (NIV)
That vine wrapped around the shoulders of the pumpkin seemed a sort of comforting connection to ease the journey as it made its way from its familiar field to the market and then to our backyard. I must say it fits in pretty well on our deck, and I have continued to ponder that connectedness and the important, foundational beauty of the familiar that helps as we transition to the often exciting, sometimes scary yet-to-be.
I think that’s why I love fall so much; it’s the harvest time that calls us back home after summer travels and time away. We return to backyard bonfires with friends and neighbors over bowls of chili and gather around tailgates filled with sandwiches, soups and chewy oatmeal cookies! (Of course, for me food is ALWAYS the focus!). We stay connected (in the safest way we can these days) with those who support us as we transition to new classrooms or schools, perhaps new jobs or new homes, new churches or new activities. Some of my friends have children going off to college for the first time which is a big step for students and parents alike. Care packages filled with favorite homemade cookies or snacks can make new steps a little easier. And sharing treats from home is a great way to get to know new roommates and fuel late night study sessions.
For some of us the shift in seasons may simply mean pulling on sweatshirts instead of swimsuits and raking leaves in place of pulling weeds, but I am reminded that there are other transitions that are a bit more challenging. My husband and I are in the midst of accompanying a few of our parents through the physical and emotional challenges of aging which highlight the importance of love, patience and connection. We have found that sharing familiar foods often conjures up memories of people and places, that tell our story as a family and can ease daily burdens. A while back, I visited my dad in the memory care facility where he now lives and despite my cheery greeting, he was very content to keep snoozing. I tried every angle to coax him out of bed into the arm chair so we could have a visit. Finally I disclosed that I had brought him some bacon, a regular Sunday breakfast tradition at our home growing up. All of a sudden he woke up and agreed to get out of bed. My brother joined us a few minutes later and once my dad had his fill of crispy bacon and fresh orange juice, we ended up having a lovely visit in the courtyard outside his bedroom.
We also recently celebrated my father-in-law’s birthday in their assisted living facility. We donned the necessary face masks and arranged to bring in some of his favorite foods for an early dinner, ending it all with his requested brownies. His favorite part of the meal by far was back in his apartment, munching on the seemingly endless plate of butterscotch brownies that his daughter made from her mom’s recipe. Surrounded by his family, he enjoyed one brownie after the next, until he sat back in his wheel chair and agreed to pack up the few remaining bars for the next day.
As I get ready to make butternut squash soup, and invite a few friends over to savor these remaining days of backyard dining (thanks to the outdoor heater my husband fixed last week), I am grateful for my faith that reminds me of our God whose vine is always within reach and who keeps us tethered to His nurturing love as we move from season to season.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit;”
John 15:5 (NIV)
Be sure to check back in the weeks ahead as we make our way into fall; I can’t wait to share many seasonal soups and my favorite chili recipe, perfect one-pot meals that make it easy to gather a few or many after raking leaves or watching football games. And feel free to post photos of your favorite pumpkins and outdoor gatherings in the comments section. I’d love to connect us all and share in the harvest of food and faith in the days and seasons to come.