A Fall Harvest Fit for a Melville
Joan P. Wife, as she once signed our joint tax return, planted our first bat squash last spring. I thought it was "bat" as in Dracula, perhaps with some kind of wing shape. No, it was supposed to be bat as in baseball, swinging from the diamond, not the belfry.
Never having seen a bat squash, we didn't know exactly what to expect. But we did expect something as the vine slithered up its circlet of wire fence and reached out to a nearby hemlock.
Soon it was Joan and the batstalk. If only I had been a giant when we needed one.
The elephant-ear leaves climbed over the needles. They passed the telephone wires. They went all the way up. By September, we had a hemlock festooned with greenery and blossoms.
But no bats!
Joan said maybe the Vienna sausages on the vine were as big as bat squash got. She chopped one up, cooked it, and the little dimes of vegetable matter were edible if not interesting.
I argued that a bat squash worthy of the name had to be a lot larger. A nurseryman said everyone's squash had suffered this year from a shortage of bees. He suggested we use an artist's brush and do our own pollinating.
Somehow we weren't that devoted to bat squash. And Joan said she had seen some bees anyway. By the end of October, a freeze had wilted the leaves. The batstalk stopped growing. I said I'd pull it down, and Joan said she'd make a meal from the Lilliputian League bats.
The vine kept breaking as I pulled its lower stems. I had to jiggle the pruning saw, with its pole more than twice as long as I am, to extricate the upper stems from the hemlock branches. Suddenly, I saw an opening in the thick evergreen. An object was in there, a long object, palely gleaming in the shadows at the very top.
Joan happened to be away. I, Ahab, was alone in sight of the Great White Bat, a Moby Dick without Melville's waves of symbolism. I couldn't reach it, but I had to.
Standing on a kitchen chair, I calculated that the pole plus my bones and sinew brought the tip of the pruning blade 20 feet from the ground. Almost to the bottom end of the hanging Moby. I could shake the surrounding branches, but the vine wouldn't give. That's when I could have used being a giant.
With evasive action against the needles, I pushed in under the lower hemlock branches and looked up along the trunk. There was Leviathan, marginally closer in a straight line.
I got out the old stepladder. Now we all added up to enough for me to tweak the bat squash's stem with the blade if I threaded the pole through the branches and stretched as far as I could. Hard to develop a sawing motion in that posture.
In the cathedral dimness, I saw two other bats the size I thought they were supposed to be. But Moby was the biggest, the prize I had to capture for the batstalk girl. Melville would make the pursuit longer. I'll just say I kept lunging and twisting until the pruning saw and squash were grappling like Tarzan wrestling a crocodile.
Yes, the bat squash went to earth. In three scarred pieces, alas, but totaling 35 inches end to end. I browsed the Internet and found bat squash is also called snake gourd, "often acquiring a length of about three feet."
With a couple of subtle curves, Moby did look a bit more like a boa constrictor than a Louisville Slugger. And Joan was satisfyingly surprised to find a three-foot monster on the kitchen counter when she came home.
But we've tasted better squash.