Dear Fall, I’ve been waiting for you. We all have. I’ve been craving the bracing quality of a cold wind, which I appreciated last night as I pulled the last of the Hank’s Xtra Special Baking Beans from the stalks that had been drying in the shed. My son’s cheeks were rosy with cold as he studied a katydid with a magnifying glass next to me. He wanted to bring it inside, keep it in a cricket box his Nana gave him, but I dissuaded him, instead explaining that it would probably die anyway, and perhaps a sadder death bound inside a small wooden box inside a house. He sadly watched it jump back into the grass.
There is a definite pattern to the arrival of fall, similar to spring cleaning. We prepare for winter all autumn long: stack wood, get the boiler cleaned, get the generator out, fill 5-gallon water jugs to store in the basement (losing power means we lose water). We get ready for cold, for possible power outages, for darkness. We mow the leaves where they gather most thickly, and we get the snow shovels out. The garden is slowly put to bed, and in fact this year it is being completely disassembled in order to prepare it for next year, a bigger and better garden. In preparing for winter, I am also preparing for spring and summer. It’s a pattern, a hopeful pattern. All the outdoor chairs come in, the porch gets tightened up, the grill gets covered; we slowly close all the outdoor spaces up and move inside to reacquaint ourselves with the fireside, and all the cozy spots indoors.
It’s not a boisterous or jubilant feeling though–it’s somewhat grim. It’s like battening down the hatches or preparing for battle. There’s a time worn feeling to it, a we can handle it, we know what to do kind of quality; there’s a stiff upper lip to it. I am glad for summer to be over, and I’m sincerely ready for winter, even eager for it, but I know all too well how long winter can be, and the treachery that comes with it. Winter is deceitful, just like summer. There is the fantasy: the hot soups, the sizzling fire, the blanket of pristine snow. Then there is the reality: the arctic wind seeping through the cracks in your old house, the dangerous ice that keeps building, the long dark nights that never seem to end.
The deeply satisfying parts of the arrival of fall are strong though, and keep the darkness at bay. The cupboards are filled with jars of food, the chest freezer is packed as well. The raspberry and shiso leaves are dried and labeled in jars. The beans are now shelled and glisten, waiting to be plants next year. The grain corn is tied up and hangs from the porch window sills waiting to be ground. The zinnias still battle the frost bravely, their tarty summer colors brazen in the face of the crystalline frost and muted fall colors. The garden’s disarray is somehow peaceful–the stumps of the corn stalks, the fallen over and deer-nipped bean plants, the decaying rhubarb leaves, the yellowing asparagus fronds–all of them add to the picture in my mind that is both consummately appealing and yet acutely melancholy.