The Turning of Autumn

The weather is cooling and the leaves are turning. The first frost has not come yet, but it is coming. Soon now. The shift from summer chores to autumn chores has occurred. There is the sense of preparing for winter’s impending arrival.

I will readily tell people I like autumn. It is what comes after that I have a problem with. Winter is a slog against depression. The long nights and bitter cold don’t help. If one could physically walk toward death, winter would be the weather that takes you there. That’s a perspective which explains to you the forboding which hangs over my enjoyment of autumn.

Still, I do enjoy autumn. I enjoy the feel of the air, the cooler weather, the rhythm of life. It is the time when the regrets of spring and summer can be laid to rest. Put to bed or buried, waiting their resurrection. The things not done now most certainly won’t be done this year. So I clear the table. Or surrender the to-do list. Maybe next year. Maybe next time. And so I let go, and there is a certain release in that. Freedom to imagine that next year will be better. Next year will be different, even when it is not.

There is also a satisfaction in the harvest. For all that was not done, something was done and there is some return on that. I haven’t treated the grape vines as I should, but there were the grapes and now there is the canned grape juice waiting for us, courtesy my wife’s hard work. I didn’t prune the apple trees this year, and that was a bitter pill to swallow this spring, and still the trees were kind enough to give a bountiful harvest. The apples may not have been as large or beautiful as if I had tended the trees. But still there was more than we knew what to do with.

The year, and the plants, can be kinder to us than we are to ourselves. I find that kindness cheers me.

The garden is a wreck, I fell behind on the weeding. The onion crop was a failure, but my first garlic harvest was a great success. The bunches now hang in the kitchen tied up neatly by the woman of the house, a promise of more next year. The beans were a success and we have more than we need. The basil still waits but the harvest is greater than we’ll ever use. The garden was not tended as it ought. But it was kind to us, too.

Last weekend I dug the potatoes with the boys. I find it a particularly enjoyable harvest because unlike most other harvests, this is one of mystery and discovery. You don’t know how many potatoes you will have until you start turning over the mounds. Each mound is a surprise of bounty. The boys love it too as we worked late together into the dark.

“We’re hard work’n men, aren’t we, Dad?”

While they got their late dinner I laid the potatoes on the porch to dry. This weekend it was the autumn chore of cleaning the potatoes of the last vestiges of dry dirt and bagging them for winter storage. It is an unassuming task, but with its own simple rhythm and pleasure. With brush in one hand the potato is rolled around for each side to be cleaned, then added to the bag. And so it goes again. Brush, brush.

Brush, brush.

The chicken yard is mowed for what I hope is the last time this year. There is so much to be cleaned up, and I know I won’t get to it all. But I tell myself that what isn’t done now can be done in spring. It makes me feel better. There is time.

I tell myself that every year.

The day is ended with a campfire, at the request of the eldest. We eat cheap hot dogs on sandwich bread finished off with smores. There is no place to go and nothing to do. At least nothing that clamors. We sit and we be still and we feel the sun go down and watch the first stars come out. The chill is good, unless you are my wife. Then it is freezing. Eldest sings us a song made up on the spot, his face reflecting firelight in the dark, his finger sticky with marshmallows.

If little boys didn’t need to go to bed I could sit out there a long time, staring at the fire before and the fire above which twinkles in its points of light. It is a night for thinking, and feeling, in that cool autumn turning.

Sometimes you can feel life, like it is pressed against your skin.

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