September 13, 2004

So. This is how it ends.

The garden of 2002...a bumper crop!
Well, that was that. This year's garden, sad one that it was, ended today. And even though fall has always been, and I suppose will yet again be my favorite season, there was a sadness in the warm air today. I said goodbye to summer a season notable for its coolness and regular rains. But in this deep valley, where the growing season at its best is marginal, with few hours of sun and temperatures always several degrees cooler than most of the rest of the county up top, this year gave us too little heat and light, and perhaps a bit too much moisture to make a garden to be proud of. I would find myself looking away, not gazing over it admiringly when my eyes would wander west of the house toward the embarrassment inside the garden fence. And so today was good riddance. Apology and regret; hope for better fortune next year.

I cleared away the failed beans, the gray vines of mediocre squash and the legion of galinsoga: this, more than intended vegetables, represented our summer crop--weeds growing luxuriantly in the neglected gaps between weak spurts of gardening zeal. Cleaning off the garden today was to finally sweep this year's failure off to the compost pile, out of public view, and mine.

Today I cranked the tiller for the last time in 2004. Its dull tines turned the weedy residue into the dark earth still wet with Atlantic Ocean moisture from last week's hurricane. When the work was done, I walked behind the tiller at a plod--step; pause, step-while a dirge hummed in its monotone rhythm. I imagined myself a farmer reluctantly putting his old mare up to barn for the winter. The thick-treaded tires wobbled on the heavy planks thrown down between sandy banks, to bear it across the clear water of the creek; then one last climb, it creeped up the ramp and onto the barn floor. The red machine had stayed in the garden all summer this time, covered with a tarp, of course, a permanent fixture for four months and giving color where nature's colors should have grown. Now that it's under roof again, I am unsatisfied, incomplete, restless.

This is not like me. Usually this time of year, I'm revving up to full throttle in anticipation of fall--the best time to be alive in the southern mountains, in my book. I'm not sure what's wrong. Maybe it is the anxiety of knowing we don't have enough firewood yet to see us through til March. This certainly seems to be a fact. Or it might be the near-certain approach of yet another potentially devastating hurricane. Ivan will be here by Thursday with its mindless power and fury. The rain will fall on the godly and the ungodly, alike; on the prepared and the indifferent. The waiting is hard.

If Frances hadn't flattened the sunflowers, they'd have only lasted one more week anyway. Houses can fall just as easily, a grim reminder of the impermanence in the things we hold dear. In less than two months, one of the major candidates is going to be in the White House. It feels like a national kind of autumn. I won't be gratified, whatever the outcome in November, and am deeply sad for our country and the difficult seasons it faces.

Today is one of my short days. When I get home, I'll deal with this blue funk by felling at least one of the standing-dead ash trees at the head of the valley, back in the quiet, where Nameless Creek and the New Road converge. I need the physical work. I need a new symbol, a new purpose for the season, now that the failed garden is gone. Grappling with those ash trees will reward me with a product, something I can show for my toil--a truckload or two of white wood, This I will throw off the truck where I can see it, touch it, just out the back door.

It is a fragile discomfort I suffer . Let me see today the first migrating Monarch while I'm bringing in the winter wood, and God will be in his place, and all will be well with the world again.

The picture above is from the garden of 2002, a "good year" that ended in a terrible drought at the end of the growing season.

Posted by fred1st at September 13, 2004 06:45 AM | TrackBack

Fred -- this is such a sweetly sad post. Hope your physical work is able to lift you out of your funk. And I hope you see your Monarch. (They're just starting to come through here.)

Posted by: Pica at September 13, 2004 09:33 AM

We've had Monarchs for a while -- I'll point them in your direction. I am ready for fall. It may not happen for a while here in Alabama. In fact, my husband is counting on it since he planted more corn and it has tassled.

Posted by: Terry at September 13, 2004 02:54 PM

Fred, I feel the same way. Although I have lots of potatoes and pumpkins...and the corn was great this year. I think its because we didn't get to enjoy summer. It was a cool and wet one...never got to burn off the funk of life. And now it's over! I'm hoping for some Indian Summer Fall days. Colleen

Posted by: colleen at September 14, 2004 09:54 AM

Beautiful post Fred

Posted by: Euan at September 18, 2004 02:51 AM

Dear Fred,

I don't know what happened after I previewed my mail. It disappeared.I will try it again, since I was touched by your photo.
But inspite of your blue mood about the dampness in the garden this year, you made a photograph of it , so beautiful, that viewing this picture can give cityfolks like me, the idea of paradise on earth. And no doubt you agree,
Good luck in this Garden of Eden,

Maaike Putman

Posted by: maaike Putman at September 23, 2004 04:23 AM

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