“Time is a storm in which we are all lost.”
~ William Carlos Williams
Finally, here is fall.
Not that I’ve been trying to rush the season. No…summer, could have stayed awhile. I am not yet tired of long, warm and sunshiny days. I could stand several more weeks of it, without complaint.
Still, this year more than others in recent memory, fall started announcing its pending arrival early. Chilly nights brought out the blankets, and warned that cold weather was coming. First, it was acknowledged as a relief:
“Great sleeping weather!”
“I’m loving these cool nights!”
Warm days at the beach followed by nights nestled under heavy quilts is how I remember August on childhood vacations on Beaver Island. Wonderful! “Chilly,” though, gave way to downright cold this year. Almost a month ago, I went around and closed every window, stored the box fan in the attic, and carried the portable heater downstairs.
For weeks, conversations have turned toward all the signs that warn of a hard winter coming. The days, which lengthen by such slow increments in the spring, seem to shorten rapidly this time of year. “Dark, already,” I observe with surprise day after day. The activity of deer and squirrels; the gathering of birds; the behavior of small rodents are all signals to watch.
The mice are unquestionably moving inside. At the hardware store, the section of the store that holds rodent-control products is depleted weekly. I’ve heard many stories of mice showing up in homes and in places where they’ve never been seen before. Too many apples? Too few coyotes? We can only speculate on the reasons.
“Are the leaves changing yet?” The questions come from other locations, from people who would happily travel north for the glory of fall colors. We watch closely, as that is another signal that fall is coming. First it’s just one branch showing red, on a whole tree of green leaves. Or one single golden leaf. Then, just overnight, it seems, the King’s highway is ablaze with color!
The cold weather continued, through August and into September. Cool night temperatures dipped to cold, and stretched into the daylight hours. We compared the readings on indoor and outdoor thermometers. We asked each other, “how cold did it get?” The farther you live from the Lake Michigan, the more vulnerable you are to early frost. When Doug Tilley reported he’d had to scrape ice from his windshield, I knew my garden was on borrowed time.
On the last day of summer, I filled one basket with spinach leaves, and another with kale. I pulled up the basil, and plucked every precious green leaf off the stems. I picked all of the tomatoes. I was merciless in discarding those with blemishes and bruises. I threw away the ones that were too immature to hold any hope of ripening, and filled one bowl with perfect green tomatoes. The red ones, I lined up on the counter near the sink.
I stacked and stored the metal tomato cages, then filled the wheelbarrow with the vines. I pulled up the cucumber plants, harvesting four that were hiding in the greenery. Squash was next. I saved every blossom. I tossed two tiny butternut squash that had no hope of ripening. The zucchini and other summer squash, which has produced spottily all summer long, served up more than a dozen new fruit, no bigger than my index finger.
I dug the shovel into the ground where my potato plants had been, then pushed my hands into the loosened soil. I was rewarded with a half dozen fist-sized potatoes. I pulled up all the bush beans plants, then yanked out the branches that formed the pole bean teepees. The tall vines yielded a handful of overripe beans that I’d missed when I last gathered them. Everything harvested at this late date seems dear: the last the garden has to offer.
On the last day of summer, I simmered peppers, basil and tomatoes with salt, pepper, and a dash of balsamic vinegar to make a fresh sauce that seemed to capture the essence of the season. I spooned it over diced and roasted potatoes for dinner. Before I went to bed, I put a handful each of dried black beans and great northern beans in a pot. I carefully peeled back the pods of my own pole beans, and added each bean seed to the mix, then added water to let them soak.
On the first day of fall, I made end-of-summer soup. I put the teakettle on to boil, then sliced an X into the top of each ripe tomato, and set them into the sink. When the water boiled, I poured it over the tomatoes to loosen their skins. I drained the soaking water from the bean pot and set it on the stove. As I peeled and rough chopped the tomatoes, I added them to the softened beans, and brought them to a simmer.
As the day progressed, the dry beans softened and took on the flavor of the tomatoes they were stewing in. I cut up the spinach, kale and squash blossoms, and added them to the pot. I chopped up a green pepper, a half head of cauliflower, two stalks of celery and three carrots that were in the vegetable compartment of my refrigerator. I diced an onion, and the last of the potatoes. I washed and sliced each tiny, seedless zucchini, letting their fluted edges dress up the mixture. To finish, I tossed in a slight handful of barley, and sprinkled some salt and pepper.
When it was done, I filled a bowl with soup. I carried it outside into a day – the first day in more than a week – that felt like summer. Warm enough to sit outside without a sweater. Warm enough to think, if it weren’t for the calendar, and the fall colors, and the now barren garden spot, that summer was still with us.
We all mark the changing seasons in ways large and small. In my house, warm soup made from the last of the garden’s offerings is a good way to welcome the beginning of fall.