Saturday, October 8, 2011

Ode to a Season


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 an igloo the cold.  Since my first year in Mobile, over a decade ago, summer has become my hibernation time, chased indoors by a merciless sun I never could have imagined on the hottest July afternoon of my childhood.

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.

Pansies 10 01
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.


  1. Grrrr!!! It's still snowing and blowing here.

  2. A fig! Oh, I am envious! We thought we killed our fig tree last winter, too, only to be surprised by a late spring resurrection. And the other day we saw a few little, wee green figs. They won't have a chance to get big or ripe, but it gives us hope for next year - and motivation to take better care of the tree this winter!

  3. Ode to a supermarket's produce department... that's all I gotta say.

  4. Ah, you have described summer in the south perfectly. I remember the AC coming on (in April) and my not wanting to go outside in the cloying, oppressive heat. And that lasted far too long! I would suffer through the sand gnats that came out just as the weather was perfect for planting a garden, only to let the garden succumb to the insects and the powdery mildew.
    The bounty from your yard is beautiful. Amazing what survived the heat, neglect and the fangs of the famished Crumple-horned snorkacks! (Do you know if they flourish in Colorado?!)

  5. My blackberry bush was the biggest and healthiest it's been since I planted it a few years back.

    The birds were incredibly thankful for my super busy schedule this summer. They expressed their appreciation all over my car.

  6. Ahh Chardon... Having been raised a little further west of you, I learned long ago not to head that far east much past November cuz the snow is deeper and the winter nastier once your hit Charon-- As gorgeous as it it. But, boy-oh boy, the weather can be extreme.

    Your garden is still producing and that's a real plus. Maybe you can freeze those berries and save them for February to remind you of what warm weather is like ;-)

    xo jj

  7. Hey you. We are having really hot weather here and I sort of miss fall! Thank you so much for visiting my blog. I have been out of it lately. Oh and thank you for having pictures of food for me here too.

  8. Just dropped by for the first time--love your blog! Totally made me smile--thanks! Hope you and your crew have an awesome weekend--


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