Gift

A friend gave us a handful of cuzinni seeds a few years ago.  Being a “Seeder,” the only one I know, he cannot help himself when it comes to seeds.  Whether walking a sidewalk or the countryside, he revels in the partaking of seeds freely given by plants.  When he tells a story of finding a plant that is new to him he’s just this side of giddy.  Can you imagine, the plant simply left the seeds there for me to pick up!  In the telling of his discovery story you are sure to learn everything about the encounter: plant type, soil texture, rooted structure, stem heft, and foliage; how the seeds were found: on the plant, beneath it, blowing in the wind; and how they were gathered, carried home, and stored.

If you know a Seeder then you know, sooner or later, you’ll end up with seeds in hand you know nothing about.  Seeds are special in their gift.  They reflect a relationship with creation that goes beyond self—soil, water, air, light—which brings forth unique and extortionary life.  Given by their mother plant to whomever will accept them, seeds hold the secret to the existence of life.  To hold a seed is to embrace sacredness in the palm of hand.  The exchange of seed is a solemn act of nature binding the Seeder to the mother plants place of origin and her ancient kin.  One who has been gifted seed takes a step into natures epic story where reality bends toward the mythical.  The sure tell is when, with seeds in hand, you look over your shoulder and see your gifter of seeds smiling and waving you on.  You ought to be apprehensive in that moment.  For you may well walk and plant your way into a Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale or a Johnny Appleseed folk tale.

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Exceptional is the word for last summers garden.  Copious in word and deed.  Winkled and a bit tough in skin we were still eating tomatoes well into December.  And fall squash is a natural for New Year’s supper.  Yet neither copious, abundant, profuse, lavish, or extravagant adequately describe the produce of those gifted cuzinni seeds.  Time hardly passed after planting before we learn that when it comes to cuzinni, grows like a weed, is a pitiful phrase.

Our first mistake was planting four seeds rather than one.  We quickly learned that once cuzinni gets their tendril legs under themselves you’re done for.  At first they’re banal enough, Wrapping up and over themselves they seem to be doing the same as any ordinary plant; protecting a root base and primary stems.  However, once secure in their place, Katy bar the door!  Tendrils run to the east and the rising sun as if they have legs.  Up and over peppers and potatoes and pumpkins, nothing stops twenty-foot tendrils who eerily appear overnight.  Before another moment passes they’re climbing up sunflower stalks at the far end of the garden.  With much consternation, we took a breath…and decided to “let’s just see what happens.”  Oh, the naiveté of “famous last words.”

Leaving tendril kin wrapping their way up sunflower stalks, other tendrils got serious and set their sights across the grass-lawn flats to the cherry and peach trees across the way.  One could almost hear their vegetative souls being drawn to those heavenly fruited branches upon which their voracious tendrils might reach for the stars.  In such a time there is little left but to live into ritual.  We began the practice of twice-a-week mowing, lawn and tendrils.

Mowing held the tendrils at bay and fruit trees sighed in relief.  However, the cuzinni simply changed tactics.  They began setting insatiable fruit.  In what seemed hours one-inch fruit turned into a three-inch round by three-foot long undulating squash.  In another moment they were long enough to mark your six-foot Covid distance from your neighbor.  They put on fruit by the dozens (and dozens more).  In the past we knew days when neighbors feared our arrival with fruit from the opulent zucchini plant, but in cuzinni’s case, even the foodbanks feared the farm truck pulling into the drive.  Life became a matter of will; neighbors no longer kept their distance from the farm because of Covid, they stayed away lest we con them into taking home a dozen or more cuzinni.  We love our Seeder, but by summers end we learned to drop the word “Greeks” from the old saying and revamp it to “Beware of Seeders bearing gifts!”  Our lives entered the mythological.

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Late fall: hay is harvested and stacks tarped; cattle have been rounded up and the calves weaned; fences are being repaired; and a hard freeze finished up the garden, including the cuzzini.  Having a little time, I sat down to do the cuzinni research I should have done before ever placing four seeds in the ground.

Turns out I should have listened better when the seeds were given, because I couldn’t find cuzzini in any seed catalogue or online.  I did find, however, the Sicilian squash Cucuzza—whose photo and description matches our cuzinni to a T.  Turns out most folk use a trellis system to raise cucuzza and it is known for its two-foot-a-day vine and fruit growth.  One writer said it like this, “Timing is everything…one day the fruit is a couple of inches long and two days later it’s two feet long. And, that’s if you even saw the fruit.”

I suppose because of its tenaciousness some might think the cucuzza an invasive plant.  Perhaps if left on its own, in the right environment, that would be true.  Yet, rather than thinking the relationship as hostile, one could just as easily understand their abundant production as a reflection of a cucuzza-landscape relationship that works well.  No doubt the planter of seed has a responsibility to the landscape and good seed husbandry.  Yet, planted with care and good attention the cucuzza seed could be known for its love of two landscapes—Sicilian and Yakama—who have the similar traits of tenacity, endurance, and a people who thrive, love summers, surprise, and propagate well.

The Seeders gift asks us to engage natures simple request: care beyond self.  To enter ones work with the resolve of soil and water, sun and planter, giver and gatherer; to give of and to use our natural gifts abundantly.  To be excessive in our created work is to affirm our individuality, the distinctiveness of others, and recognize that in the blending of our spirits we become a sustaining community.  Therein lies the sacred of well given gifts; the melding of spirits without the requirement of conformity.  Such life, such creation, is nothing if not abundant, generous, and unforgettable.

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