Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Long Story

Three plant starts are now nestled in dirt, packed in burlap bags, lined up on top of our chicken coop.  

Sixteen five gallon buckets in, I started feeling crazy. Lugging the sixteenth bucket up the ladder I start worrying that I will not finish before the kids wake up from their naps and that this whole idea is more trouble than it is worth.  A total of twenty two buckets later, Ivory is up, Sylvan is still sleeping and three green, I-should-have-planted-them-last-week starts are sunk into the dirt. 

I hope this works. 

I visualize the plants growing, cascading down the walls of the coop, keeping the interior of the coop cool while growing big fat heavy fruits....  but this isn't a story of making the most of the space on a city lot, or about one of the many uses of burlap bags, but about the seeds I hope will flourish in this space. 

Years ago - pre-children, pre-marriage and even pre-engagement - Adam, my future in-laws and I attended a horticulture conference in Tulsa Oklahoma.  We split up, each of us listening to those lectures we deemed to most interesting and then we would converge sharing the highlights and set out again.  (I still have the notes from that day tucked into my desk drawer somewhere.)  The last lecture I attended was by a professor from the University of Oklahoma (I think) who was speaking about the ongoing effort to collect seeds and learn about horticultural practices of the plains Indians.  
I should mention that after attending a single lecture I am no expert on the subject and that these are the highlights that have stuck with me (as I remember them anyway):

There is little literature regarding the horticultural practices of the plains Indians. The most notable document is Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden as recounted by Maxi'diwiac (Buffalo Bird Woman)(ca.1839-1932) of the Hidatsa Indian Tribe.   Most of the information he shared with us was derived from the northern plains regions (think the Dakotas) and it seems that even less is of the agricultural heritage of the southern plains Indians has survived.  He mentioned a seed that he had managed to locate and had brought to Oklahoma where it was being grown at a demonstration garden.  He called it the Wichita Pumpkin and in my memory is the same squash told of in Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden.  A fleshy squash that was sliced and dried and stored for the winter months. 

After the lecture I walked to the front of the room and asked him how I could get a hold of a few of those seeds.  He handed me his card... and I promptly lost it.  I was sucked into the whirl wind of finishing up my undergraduate program and didn't commit to tracking him or the seeds down.  But they nagged at me.  I wanted those seeds. I mentioned them to fellow students, friends, gardening enthusiasts.   I typed what I thought where useful phrases into the googler and came up with - NOTHING!  

After our engagement, our wedding and busting-at-the-seams pregnant with my first child I opened the door to a good friend who was employed as the ethnobotanist for the Chickasaw Nation.  He gave me a handful of seeds: Wichita Pumpkin.  That summer vines spread through our yard: big leaves with a silver dusting; giant gourd-like, green, and white striped fruit; the thick flesh a pale yellow.  I saved the seeds that fall and they have been in a jar ever since.  

We have moved not once, or twice, but four times since then.  We moved from the middle of america to Missoula, Montana: a location I realized recently realized is much closer to where these seeds were found and collected.  The seeds moved with us. This spring the kids pushed the seeds into the soil and they sat in our dining room.  Of the six seeds we planted, three germinated, and grew into sturdy starts.  

The story of these seeds spans centuries, cultures, state lines and the monumental moments of my life.  This fall I hope to scrape new seeds out of the pumpkins cavity and save the seeds for another season to tell another line of an old and mysterious tale. 


  1. Fun read, Heidi.


  2. Thank you for sharing one of these with us!