Resilience and Volunteer Pumpkins

by Amber Jensen,

I planted pumpkins this year. Started little seedlings in the house and they pushed up through the black soil in, tiny pots, sitting on the dining room floor by the window. The kids and I pulled the makeshift greenhouse tops off the trays every day to check the growth. Some days it seemed like nothing happened and other days the little green leaves appeared to get thicker and stronger. I can still hear the little voices yelling at me to come look.

“One more pushed up out of the dirt! The seed is still attached!!!”

Oh the excitement. For weeks we cared for our plant starts while waiting for the earth to warm and the sun to get it’s act together.

Shortly after the garden soil was tilled and the tires were moved for the vining plants, I moved each seedling out to its new home in the sunshine. Careful thought and planning occurred. Extra composted soil was added where needed and I said a blessing over each seedling as I patted the soil around it. Leaving them out there that first night was an invitation to my anxiety. I might have gone out to check them in the dark with a flashlight at least once.

After days of checking them and pulling tiny weeds coming up around them, I assumed the pumpkins, cucumbers, squash and zucchini would take off and do their thing. Every year they are the plants I can count on.

Within two weeks all the wee cucumber plants were dead. The zucchini plants were struggling, and the pumpkins… there was nothing left of them. I honestly don’t know if they burnt into the soil, were pecked away by birds or if they were ripped out of the ground by deer. Whatever happened to them, the baby pumpkin plants were gone.

I believe it might have been around this time that I closed myself off to gardening for this year. My memory of that time is spotty and I’m sure at least that this first small tragedy laid the groundwork for my giving up completely.

Days passed and my oldest son came into the house yelling about pumpkins. He said there were pumpkins growing in the garden. I dried my hands and stepped away from the kitchen sink to follow him outside.

I’ve heard and read that life gives us challenges as lessons. If we don’t learn the lesson we will be faced with more similar challenges until we finally get what’s there for us to be gotten. As I followed him outside I remembered the tiny shoots emerging from the soil.

My son stood, sun kissing each freckle sprayed across his nose, a huge smile on his soft young face, pointing his finger toward a small glob of dirt and grass clippings near the edge of the garden.

“Look!!! These grew by themselves!!! We’re going to have pumpkins!” his excitement was far to joyous for me to tell him that all the baby squash plants look basically the same until they get bigger leaves.

These plants had grown from some tires I flipped the soil out of. They grew out of tiny mouse nesting materials. Last fall, a small critter had hidden seeds and forgot to eat a couple. Then there they were, sprouted and grown a good 8 inches overnight.

When a seed lies beneath the ground, it feels the exact right time to begin to push against its shell and reach for the light it can’t see. It knows the perfect time to emerge form the warmed soil and greet the sun and birds and bees. How though? How were we both standing there witnessing this tiny miracle of nature after we tried so dang hard to nurture and grow our own pumpkins? It felt wondrous and not fair all at once. I must have stood gawking at three separate pumpkin plants for a good 30 minutes before my son began to tell me they were his plants and he’d be growing them and they needed water and… the volunteer pumpkins became the focus of the entire garden.

It is now harvest time. There are two, possibly three large juicy pumpkins on vines in our garden. My son checks them every morning before school and first thing when he exits the vehicle after school. He talks about the pumpkins and the animals that might threaten them. He spent an entire day researching how to keep deer and turkeys away from his pumpkins.

I don’t know how many gardens I’ve planted in my life but I do know that the plants that pop up on their own have always been the heartiest. I know my children root for the volunteer plants and they claim them and guard them fiercely. I know when a challenge keeps coming around it is for us to listen up and receive the lesson.

I’ve also learned that things will grow when they are ready. Things will thrive when they aren’t forced. The will to live seems greater in those who aren’t forced to do life a certain way. And, allowing a volunteer pumpkin to become the center of a little boys outdoor focus has a reward bigger than the pumpkin he’s been guarding all summer.

Amber is a mother, wife, writer and dirt road philosopher. She hales from small-town Idaho and makes her home on a spread of dirt in Eastern Washington with her husband and four wild children. She is dedicated to a life of contribution and finding the pieces of our journeys that connect us all in our greatness.

The imperfect and incomplete nature of life is often overwhelming and stifling. By choosing it and owning it, Amber has taken some of the dirtiest situations and spun them into lessons to live by. Her greatest inspirations are her children and their dirt antics. Learn more about Amber by visiting

Posted in