Lessons from a Tennessee Volunteer

If I had the time, I would spend all day writing. But sometimes things get in the way and take so much energy that I am diverted for hours from what I love into what is necessary.

This morning I eliminated the volunteer that had taken over my life. I hated to do it at first, but as I ripped and tugged and hacked at this invasive varmint, I showed no mercy. I sweated profusely, powered by my anger, as I yanked it up by its roots and cast it out of my life. This pesky thing had taken over. It entwined its skinny fingers around my okra, gripped my wonderful and prolific grape tomato plants at their necks and nearly choked the life out of them. Six bell pepper plants never had a chance. Oh, they started off healthy, with large dark green leaves, but once the vine got aholt (acceptable in the south as a real word) of them, they were stifled into puny sprouts never to even produce their first flower.

Not to mention what this thing did to my cherished eggplants. But the eggplant bush was determined, growing above the vine to tower over it and bravely produce a few lovely aubergine fruits on its few spindly arms.

I was tolerant at first. Gleeful even, that this new little vine was so healthy. I watched the abundant gigantic yellow flowers bloom. Are you a squash? A melon? No indication of which variety of fruit to expect. I nurtured the little thing, propping it up on my garden fence to protect it from snails, every day guiding it along. Then, when the vine was maybe 75’ in length, wrapped around and around my garden fence, a small oblong yellow fruit appeared. First a lone little baby something, then another and another. In all, perhaps 5 of these fruits appeared. I let them grow, thinking for sure this is a spaghetti squash. The fruits grew large, perhaps 8-10” in length, and were fat, like a spaghetti squash. But different somehow. I left them alone to grow.

Every night the vine grew. The leaves were huge. Each morning there appeared tendrils grabbing onto grass, invading now my back yard. This is the healthiest plant I’ve ever seen, I marveled! Is this how Jack and the Beanstalk began?

One must discern the motives of volunteers early on, before they take over. I always think they have good intentions, they will be fruitful, and will contribute to the good of all. They pop up and say I’m here, and I welcome then. I expect them to be surprising, as I cannot always tell what type they are in the beginning, those things that sprout up where you did not ask them to grow. Where you did not plant them.

But always always I start off loving them, smiling at their new little faces, marveling at their capacity to grow several inches in a day, and waiting, with much anticipation, what the fruit of the vine will be. These volunteers are eternally the most energetic, charismatic plants in the garden, usually coming from some composted plant consumed perhaps years ago, or dropped by birds, and just waiting until the precise moment in time to burst forth its seed and devour everything in its way.

Don’t trust them. No matter how they try to seduce you, no matter how smart they say you are. They are a clever lot. But I implore you, cut them down in their infancy. Grab your hoe and chop unmercifully until you get them at the very roots of their lives. Pull them up, throw them in a heap, or, better yet, burn them to ashes!

Today, my tomato plants are free at last from the vine’s strangle hold. As are my peppers, my eggplant, my okra. And do they appreciate it? I cannot tell. It is 100 degrees outside and they wilt if I look at them. Parched. They enjoyed being in the shade of those big leaves, even if that vine stifled their growth. But they are trying to recover in their newfound freedom. They are blooming, leaning toward the sun as if they are happy to at last see the light. Free to grow into what they were created to be.

Free at last.

I just hope it’s not too late.

Sometimes I feel like this is how some of my characters take over my writing. I develop small characters with great potential, then someone else eases in my mind’s eye, and suddenly it’s all about them and the other characters get lost in the excitement. I have to then put forth loads of time and energy clearing out the fluff to get back to the original idea.

Have you had anything that took over your life, slowly, before you knew what happened? Please share your experience with me.

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