Living in the south, I hibernate in the summer. The windows are shut tight. My limbs gets sluggish from being splayed in front of a fan for five months. Even the walls sweat here. My spirit wallows too, unable to rouse from its sticky sleep. Then summer snaps– sometimes all at once like a rubber band, and other times like a child clumsily learning to snap by rubbing his fingers together. Autumn gusts in. When the stagnant air becomes wind, I peel back the windows, inhale deeply, and begin life again. The fact that southern autumns persist well past Thanksgiving when much of the rest of the country is firmly in winter, I consider a restitution for the summer.
Fall seems to weak a word to contain this transformation. Although “fall” lends itself to some clever bulletin boards in classrooms and libraries, it only includes one aspect of this most delightful of seasons. And really, autumn is so much more than the falling leaves.
It is the smell of wood smoke unfurling across the evening air like a banner proclaiming allegiance to a new ruler. As the mosquitoes have slowly died off, we’ve been spending more evenings by the chimenea, watching the flames as if they were a drama.
Autumn is watching lettuces grow from nuggets the size of quarters to carpeting whole fields in the space of a fortnight. I think autumn is secretly the farmer’s favorite. Even though there is still plenty to do, the pace is less dire. We find ourselves being able to stand back and admire the beauty of the farm, if only for a moment. Set against a background of velvety black earth is the iridescent wave of carrot tops, the sea of wine dark Rouge d’hiver lettuce, the dusty green crest of collards, and the dusky purple billow of Red Russian kale.
Autumn is pulling a carrot from the ground that you are positive is the archetype for all carrots. The mother carrot. The ideal of which all other carrots are just shadows. And then you take a step farther, pull out another carrot, and there it is again! The epitome of all carrots. And very soon you have a whole handful of orange perfection.
Autumn is letting your feet luxuriate in last warm days before slippers, socks, and blankets come rolling in like a northern front. I refuse to bundle up for the first few weeks of cold weather, relishing the new sensation of cold. Gradually though, all the blankets that’ve loitered around all summer find their usefulness again. The scarves are unpacked and hung by the door. Knowing the location of one’s slippers becomes a condition of getting out of bed.
Autumn is having finally said goodbye to the bright summer vegetables. It is making room on my plate for the deep green of fall. My psyche seems to be tapping into some deep ancestral craving for fresh green before winter sets in. Kale bulks up everything from soups to garlicky white beans to scrambled eggs. Bok choy is a mild mannered partner for sassy curries. Collards sing back up to all manner of main dishes. My sink is continually full of chopped greens of some shade or other.
Autumn is relishing the warmth of the oven as you pass rather than going out of your way to avoid it. I’ve started making my own bread again, something I gladly pay someone else to to do in the summer. We’ve even fired up the oven for such unnecessary things as chocolate chip cookies. (Yes, organic carrots next to chocolate chip cookies is how we roll.)
Autumn is waking up to a find tendrils of frost on the leaves under you feet. No matter how strongly the news predicts a frost, it always surprises me to walk out with my morning basket of laundry and find that I can see my breath.
Autumn is that nap where you fall asleep wishing you had a blanket and wind up dreaming about snow tombs and giant cats. You guys get those too, right? This might be the first autumn that I’ve been both free to take afternoon naps and able to decide where I take them. Baby-tidian and I have taken our share of al fresco naps, whether in our yard in on the I Spy quilt or at the farm in hammocks.
If summer is wicker and peaches and winter is cable knit and hot chocolate, then autumn is copper and pears. Kettles start to whistle and the musk of apples and pears permeates our house. Each year we buy more apples than the last. This year we are up to three bushels, but that still doesn’t seem to be enough for preserved applesauce, juice and cider experiments, a stash of dried apples, and wanton eating out of hand. So perhaps next year it will be up to four.
Autumn is never long enough. Like a school kid dreaming of summer vacation I spend the whole rest of the year pinning for it. But, on this second day of December, perhaps it is time to let it go. There are good things ahead.