Nothing takes the fun out of gardening more effectively than lower-back pain. There you are one day, planting bulbs, pruning hydrangeas and yanking weeds. Then you make the mistake of, say, lifting a heavy object without bending your knees.
The next morning you're in agony. Fire shoots down your limbs when you sit, or stand, or stir. Knives stab you vengefully for the smallest movement. The prospect of bending down to snip a rose or pull a weed makes you want to weep. You don't bend, though, and you certainly don't cry, because if you did you'd feel the reverberations, and they are too awful to risk. Staying still and upright seems the wisest course.
It might not seem possible to find a bright side, a silver lining, in back pain -- yet here I am! For the very discomfort that made life briefly so unpleasant has now, weeks later, enriched it immeasurably.
What happened was this: I'd overexerted myself and everything hurt. One morning, as I walked gingerly down the front steps of our house toward the rolled-up newspapers waiting on the lawn, I noticed a weed in the flower beds between the roses and the peonies.
It seemed a particularly aggressive weed. It had appeared almost overnight, and had a bold stem with jagged, nasty-looking leaves.
Normally I would have plucked the thing out without a thought, but, as previously advertised, I was racked with pain and not looking for trouble. Also, in the back of my mind there moved a faint curiosity about the nature of the weed. Yesterday there'd been not a leaf, and now here was a robust 8-inch plant. Anything that grew that fast might be interesting; it could always be pulled out later.
Well, the back pain persisted, thus so did the weed. It flourished and bloomed, shot out runners, produced huge, prickly leaves and bloomed again. Eventually it outlasted the pain.
The mailman was starting to have to edge past it. I was feeling fine by this point and could have removed the weed, but it didn't seem sporting, given the effort the thing was making.
It looked comically out of place on our suburban street, like a Goth at a tea party.
It looked agricultural.
"It looks like a squash plant," someone said speculatively one morning, as we watched fat bees moving from one of the weed's giant orange flowers to another.
"That's some vine," someone agreed.
"Wait a minute, it looks just like a ..."
The realization hit everyone at once: "... pumpkin!"
And it was -- it is! By happy accident or deliberate act (the 8-year-old belatedly insists that she planted the seed last fall), we now have a gargantuan pumpkin plant pouring its luxuriant, viny, leafy self down the front walkway of our house.
In the fall, we'll have actual pumpkins which, considering, we'd better be very careful about lifting ...
Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at ">firstname.lastname@example.org .