Growing up, I hated fall.
Perhaps that’s a bit strong. Winter, I hated. I grew up in the snow belt, on the eastern side of Lake Erie, from which the cold Canadian Clipper picked up moisture, to dump as snow in generous portions on our town. I lived in a farmhouse built in 1847, before fiberglass insulation and double-paned windows. No matter where you were in that house, you felt when the wind blew strong; the quality of light changed depending on the height of the snow outside.
No, by comparison, fall wasn’t deserving of hate, but I greeted it with disappointment and distrust. Every year, such a beautiful season, explosively brilliant in the land of the sugar maple, inevitably invited in its companion, winter. Each August I heard the first flock of honking Canada geese with a sense of panic, of not having finished up with summer and being unprepared for school buses and snow shovels.
Then I moved South. South, to the land of summer that sits on your body, literally stunning you with its oppressive humidity. I know some who love it and thrive in it, but I’ll always be a Yankee, bred from northern European stock and raised in
Thus, fall and I started a new relationship. There was still school (I was teaching in Mobile), but the end of summer vacation also meant the end of an imprisonment. The windows would open, the azaleas would bloom again, and the patio furniture became useful once more. Plants and lawns that had stoically maintained themselves through the blistering heat became lush again, as if they could relax and recover, after a long battle with an implacable enemy.
It is possible I’m reading too much into that.
Whatever the plants’ feelings—or lack thereof—I have yet to make it through a summer here in North Carolina without neglecting the garden, the yard and every outdoor chore imaginable. This year was worse than ever. Having decided I wouldn’t plant a summer garden because of our two-week absence in June, I still magically ended up with vines of tomatoes and beans. And thanks to fortunate rainfalls and the help of some garden-friendly friends, the dang thing was in surprisingly good shape when we returned.
Things went downhill from there. I think I never re-adjusted to “yes, we have a garden this summer,” and I would…well, I forgot for weeks at a time to go out there. It didn’t help that we finally found a reliable lawn-mowing service. Now nothing forces me into the backyard, other than helping Rosie find her toy when she’s left it behind the AC unit.
About three weeks ago, the temperature finally dropped below 90, and I slowly have emerged from the house. Actually, it was Miss Chef who came out first, enjoying her oh-so-short break from teaching with a long day weeding some beds and replenishing them with fresh dirt. I followed behind with some pansies and some bulbs we’d bought but never used last fall, planting 60 crocuses that may or may not emerge in the spring.
|Oh, what will you look like in spring, I wonder?|
I also delved into food gardening again, planting more mesclun seeds and—for Miss Chef—some kale seeds I didn’t know we had. We can garden just about year-round here, and we patronize two farmers’ markets that boast local food all through the winter.
As I moved around the yard, greeting the trees and beds like friends coming back to school after a long vacation (“Wow, you’ve really put on some growth. You look good!”), it seemed my neglected garden welcomed me with some surprises:
The beans said, “We forgive you for not watering us for months, because, in our little beany hearts, we just like to give!”
The raspberries said, “Yes, we know, we saw those blackberries give up all their fruit while you were gone. We saved you a few delectable bites to remember summer by.” In fact, this is a better harvest than we had this spring. It’s still a tiny one by any measure, but the taste is incomparable. Spotting these berries felt like finding treasure.
But there, across the yard, quietly inconspicuous, Miss Chef’s fig tree proudly held one last bold surprise:
The tree we planted last fall died over the winter, but sent up healthy new shoots very quickly. It has set several fruits, but they seem to disappear before harvest. Rabbits? Deer? Crumple-horned snorkacks? Blind neglect? (I mean, how can you harvest a fig when you don’t look at the tree??) Well, today was my lucky day. In fact, I’m not sure if it’s ripe or just this side of rotten, but when Miss Chef comes home, I will present it to her as if it were a diamond.
Around here, that’s true love.