Calendula, such a pretty word, such a marvelous little flower, still blossoming beneath the frost-killed sunflowers in my garden.
Late Sunday afternoon finds me piling fallen maple leaves around these beauties in my garden, tucking in the soil for a winter’s hibernation. There’s celery, yet, too, among the Brussels sprouts. As I work, I snip off celery leaves, dusting off sandy soil on the hem of my shorts. The leaves are slightly grainy in my teeth, but when push comes to shove (as life inevitably goes), I’d rather have tried my teeth on a little grit than none at all.
Here’s what happens in New England’s October: the shadows creep in before the day has finished. We all know these shadows are edged with cold, with the intimation of winter and wind, of snow and more snow, and the always surprising dazzlement of winter’s glistening beauty. I bake an apple crisp, listen to election debates on public radio, comb my cat. October.
At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth…
In the night, a wild wind throws rain through my bedroom window. It’s before midnight. At twilight, the maples shimmered with a rosy-golden light, but our world has shifted. The wind’s tempestuous, shaking the storm against my house, driving away that autumn dreaminess.
The cats and I are awake. I lie on the couch, reading Ducks. Our little world has seen a proliferation of cats recently — a gray one the neighbors’ boys named Follower, a glossy black, a white-and-brown tabby, a tortoiseshell. The light on the back porch kicks on when the cats, one by one, appear, sodden, and then race off again. A raccoon sniffs my sandals I’ve left out beneath the overhang. My two cats stare through the window, mesmerized.
All night long, all day long, leaves fall. The butternut tree I planted a five years ago is skinny trunk and branch. Magnificently golden, the neighbors’ maples shed their leaves into a giant carpet. Their little boys rake and burrow. As their top branches reveal their starkness, the height of these trees soars above our houses.
October, and midday the light is tinged with sootiness as the sun bends away from my place on the earth. Whether it’s the pandemic or where I am in life, the old patterns I knew for years have splintered, fractured. To my list I write long before dawn, I add: cover the garden with leaves.
The water wheel spins holding up the milky way, and then spills it out.
Above pretty much sums up where we are now. 23 years into this parenting gig, it’s now me and the teen, and if a housecat has moved into a box on the kitchen table for the winter? Well, so be it. And the other cat refuses to drink water except on the kitchen sink? Well, so be that, too.
As a young mother, I read a literal library of parenting advice and made a trillion mistakes. I take my (diminished) reading time much more seriously these days. I continue to make mistakes. And I’ve decided the cats are fine companions, even on the table.
In so many versions of my previous life, this wouldn’t fly. Now, listening to Biden talk about his proclaimed End of the Pandemic, I wonder, What’s all that about? Who gets to decide what, anyway, and why believe anyone else when your experience doesn’t jive?
Rain comes down in buckets. A friend gives us a bucket of apple drops. I cook bacon in the oven and buy the best loaf of bread I can find for our dinner. Our tomato and basil plants are still churning out their delectables. Sure, winter is in the near offing. Much more than winter, too. Our cat is the happiest creature I’ve ever loved. We offer him drops of milk on our fingertips, licks of butter from a smooth silver knife, tender kisses on his head.
As the cat climbed over the top of
the jamcloset first the right forefoot
carefully then the hind stepped down into the pit of the empty flowerpot
Geese fly overhead in the dark evening, so near I hear their wings beating. Frost hovers, gathering strength.
Yeah, my daughter says, that’s what geese do. They’re out of here!
The garden’s gone wild at the end of the season, its queen the mightiest and heaviest sunflower head I’ve ever grown. Its stalk might rival a sturdy sapling.
The woodchuck’s gnawing my cabbage heads near the garden gate. In another year, I might have set the trap, but this year…. Gnaw on, chuck. Winter’s coming. The cabbages are profuse.
A touch of cold in the Autumn night –
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.
Every year in Vermont there’s speculation about the upcoming foliage season — will it be good…. or lousy? While the season infallibly delights — and often astonishes — we view fall foliage very personally, almost as if the quality of its splendor reflects on ourselves.
More than any other season, autumn reminds me of being a child, of picking apples in the enormous Mapadot Orchard near our house (named after Ma and Pa and Dot, of course), of the distinct, humus-y scent of fallen leaves in the maples we raked from our trees, of how fine it feels to hike in woods painted like a wildfire — crimson and gold.
Last night, my older daughter decided to bake an apple pie today.
We might live in a society where the traditions of church have dwindled to near naught, but the ritual of apple pie? Still steaming, in our house. That’s something.