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River Pumpkins

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THE other day there were pumpkins bobbing in the river behind my house.

Pumpkins in the Penobscot!

I later learned that they had fallen from a truck as it rumbled over the small bridge just upriver.

I discovered them early in the morning. I had gone out to the riverbank for a few quiet moments before leaving for work. I watched as the mist slowly lifted from the water, revealing the orange globes bumping against the shore like aquatic mammals coming in to feed. I watched them for quite a while, as if there were something more they could possibly show me. But the mere fact of pumpkins in the river was remarkable enough, and I headed off to the university.

But I couldn't get them off my mind. As I stood at the blackboard, lecturing on the basics of ecology, my thoughts were constantly jolting back to the river pumpkins. I came precariously close to giggling; but when one is teaching biology to freshman nonmajors, control is everything, and so I persisted in describing how animals and plants are physically and behaviorally adapted to their environments. And then I was jolted again.

Here I was describing why the snowshoe rabbit's fur turns white in a winter landscape, and I had pumpkins bobbing in the river behind my house - more alive than if they had been on the vine in an inland field. I felt the strangest need to get back to them. To see what they were up to.

I drove home with a special - and unprofessional - urgency at the end of the workday. Relief came only when I went out to the riverbank and saw the pumpkins. Safe and sound. Only they had increased from eight or so to an even dozen as a nearshore eddy herded them up against the bank.

As I turned to go in, I was greeted by the little boy next door who had come over for a visit. Actually, seven-year-old Russell had moped over for a visit. I had never seen him so sad. The problem was that ``all the other kids'' had jack-o'-lanterns. Except for him. His mother hadn't yet gotten around to getting him one.

A child's dreams are often impossible - to fly like Superman, to knock down a brick wall, to travel to another planet - but sometimes they are small and manageable and the solution is foreordained.

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