Last year, a tornado blew through Winfield, Kansas while we were camped at a music festival there. It got dark as night at five in the afternoon, the wind howled, the rain sounded like insane drummers beating on our old motor home. There wasn’t much for my wife and I to do but watch in amazement while wondering if this would be the final day of our lives. The wind knocked down a pecan tree maybe fifty feet from our motor home. The next day I gathered some nearly ripe pecans from that fallen tree with the idea of sprouting them into my own little pecan grove.
Over the winter, I left the seeds in the garage because they sprout better if they’ve gotten cold, but not so cold they die. In February, I soaked some for a few days, then planted them in a plastic tub in my terrarium, near the jackfruit saplings and hedgeapple tree sprouts. At a consistent 80 humid degrees, I thought I had a good shot.
But no. Maybe the seeds got too cold in the garage, maybe they weren’t ripe enough to begin with. Maybe they just sensed they weren’t in Kansas any more. Finally, I gave up. When it was time to plant some heirloom tomato seeds, I used that tub of dirt and got a wonderful crop of baby tomato plants.
I did not have good luck with the tomato plants either. The first dozen I put out in little cups to harden in the sun did not survive. The sun baked them before I remembered to move them into the shade. The next group got special treatment. I bought little peat pots for them. Alas, the breeze dried out the peat pots too quickly in Colorado’s dry climate and I lost them as well. Finally, we put a few scrappy little survivors out into the garden. They’re too small to produce much but maybe I’ll get a few tomatoes, and therefore new seeds to try next year. Very humbly, we bought four nice tomato plants from Home Depot. No one needs to know the entire story of those garden fresh tomatoes we’ll be serving in August.
That left the plastic tub itself, which was sitting outside still full of dirt, a symbol of my failure as a gardener, of my lack of attention to simple chores, and the silliness of some of my projects. To say nothing of my habit of failing to clean up the mess after an experiment. Before I dumped the dirt into a planter and tossed the tub, I saw that there were a couple of new tomato plants in there, an inch or so tall. Scraggly little things, but cunning, they had waited to sprout until they thought they were safe from my attentions. I decided to poke them into the ground, let them have their own shot at survival. I dug them out. With some sense of irony, I realized that their roots were entangled with thick, hardy weed roots. Of course, I thought. Nothing I tried to grow in the tub had survived, but bindweed seemed to be thriving. I tossed the weed roots aside and planted the little tomatoes.
As I pulled the last plant out, I realized that the weed root was entwined with a big pebble of some sort. Upon closer examination I discovered that it was not a bindweed root at all, nor was it a pebble. Those roots were emerging from pecans.
I rescued five little pecan tree sprouts. I planted three in containers (which I need to remember to water and tend. Perhaps I should make a note?) and two in the ground at the back of my yard. If any of them survive, someday someone might sit in the glorious cool shade of a massive pecan tree. Maybe someone will eat a handful of roasted pecans from them, or bake a pie. Someone might burn a branch. Nothing smells as good as smoke from a pecan wood fire, and it’s the most popular campfire wood at the music festival in Winfield. Someone might sit near that smoky fire and sing a song, maybe an old folksong that was sung a hundred years ago in a smoky field.
If the person who sings that song or eats that pecan pie has a curious bent, they might wonder if there’s a story behind the tree that produced the pie and the smoke. I hope they concoct a good one.