Sunday, September 8, 2013
There is a season ...
GARDEN AT DUSK
One morning in late August, we wake to find summer tumbling down. The sun rises later and when I pull myself from bed at 5:30 to take the dogs out, the air is chill and shadowy, the dawn a faint peach glow against the eastern horizon. The grass is damp with night dew and the world is silent. The birds that chirruped and trilled throughout the warmer days have raised and sent their families out on their own, so there is no cacophony over staking territory. The deer that have spent the night grazing our fields disappear, ghostlike into the woods. On the distant hills, a few precocious maples show hints of orange and red, vague promises of the color to come. The change makes us restless.
The west wind has an edge that scatters the thin fog hovering in the overgrown meadow across the road and quickens our steps as we walk the dogs. They too feel the change, their heads higher, searching the breeze and the road ahead, and they fling themselves into the shaggy bushes along the roadside, tails wagging ferociously, noses quivering in search of the small creatures that scurry through the underbrush.
Flocks of starlings and grackles rise alarmed from the spruces and school together against the brightening sky, and the chickadees and other small warblers flit through the fading leaves of the alders and chokecherries.
The change quickens our labors; there is much to do before temperatures plummet and snow sheaths the green of trees and meadows. The garden that we fretted over all summer has grown into a ripe lushness that demands our attention. There are peas and beans to pick and beets to pull and garlic to braid. The tomatoes are so thick and laden with barely ripening fruit that to venture into the patch is like wading into a jungle. The corn – Golden Bantam and Ashworth – is nearly as tall as an elephant’s eye and on each stalk, three to four ears are plumping, scarved in tawny silk.
Pumpkins and winter squashes are starting to turn deep orange, and the New England Long pie pumpkins that we pick green and store in the kitchen are plump zeppelins promising great pies and muffins and soups when January’s blast demands something sweet and soothing to eat. The kitchen has become a processing facility, and husband Bruce freezes a half dozen quarts of vegetables a day, while I turn out jars and jars of jams and jellies and pickles and relishes early every Saturday morning.
The fields are mown, and the bales stacked neatly alongside the berry beds and the garden, and in the golden glory of late August, the world seems content to simply bask in what may well be the last warm rays of sun. But there is still much to do.
Wood must be ordered, then stacked and covered. The snow blower has to be tuned, the shovel edges sharpened and a home found for this year’s new lawn chairs. Quilts and comforters need to be unpacked, spilling from the totes smelling of lavender and then hung for airing before they are put on the beds, and snow tires pulled down from the garage rafters.
We need to order meat: lamb and chicken and turkeys, maybe a shoulder of beef from friends, and freezers must be cleaned out to be ready for them when they come from the butcher. There are herbs to be gathered and hung to dry and others to be divided and planted in new spots. The weather service warns of frost and we patiently wait for the wind to die, and then rush from the house in the thick dusk to drape the plants with tarps and old bed sheets, protection against the inevitable cold that blows in from Canada.
We are busy with taking stock and planning ahead. Meals become more substantial; hearty soups laden with the garden’s provender, and the house is fragrant with the aroma of drying herbs hung on the pot rack. The table is laden with jars of pickles and relishes, jams and jellies that must be stacked carefully in the pantry cabinet, and in this interlude between summer and winter, the world quiets and slows. At night, when we take the dogs out, the sky is black and distant; the Milky Way is a pale ribbon of other worlds and stars winking a hello to our tiny planet. We pull our jackets closer, inhale the cold, clean air and retreat to the light and warmth, bracing for the inevitability of winter.