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The Scarlet Runner Outside My Window

By Sara Wright

I have grown scarlet runner beans ever since I can remember. I have heirloom seeds that I collect every fall to dry and store for the winter. During the last few years as the weather began to shift, planting became tricky. The deer were also decimating my plants before they could produce seed pods. So eventually, after sharing seeds with others, I gave up growing my own…at least until I found one lone seed I had left on my kitchen window sill.

Last winter I was packing up lichens and slime mold samples to share with a fellow naturalist. I placed them in a damp paper towel. That is when I noticed the old scarlet runner seed and, on a lark, added it to the packet. To my utter shock, when I opened the damp packet later, the seed had produced a big fat white root.

Although it was only the first of March, I planted my treasure in a pot. Any seed that wanted to grow that much had to be given a chance to live. Within a month I had this huge vine climbing up my window. Every day, I wound her tendrils back on each other.

May came with a hard, killing freeze, and then the rains began. The flooding lasted all summer along with the worst air quality we have ever had here in Maine due to fires in Canada. In desperation I planted my vine just outside my window to avoid deer predation, where it immediately died.

Imagine my astonishment when a tiny leaf appeared about two weeks later in the rain. It was now almost July. The scarlet runner sent out more shoots, and by mid-August tiny scarlet flowers appeared. Hummingbirds flocked to the blossoms. Bees, too. I waited, and lo, a few pods finally appeared in September.

Just a few days ago a friend collected the few pods for me. Most were unripe, but, when I shelled the beans this morning, I had three good seeds and some unripe ones that looked like jewels. I will dry all of them for about a week and then store the three viable seeds in a cool place for the winter. Maybe my heirloom seeds will produce another magic vine or two next year. I know that I will never forget this old, abandoned bean seed that simply refused to give up. I am awed by the Powers of Nature. S/he will endure. Perhaps before too long these beans will be gone forever, but, for now, I may see another scarlet runner vine bear flowers and seed pods next year.

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