Well, there it is: another ring on the trees, another wrinkle under the eyes, another season behind us. I am already a bit sad about the end but I think it comes with the territory, or maybe it just comes with the time of year. If you would have asked me in early August right in the thick of it I’d have told you I couldn’t wait til the first of November, though now part of me wishes I could have back that dreadful heat – I don’t think it’s the sane part of me.
On the bright side there’s more time for other things, less pressure and more apple cider. There’s no more mosquitoes, no cabbage loopers or harlequin beatles, no cloud of flies swarming rotting watermelon rinds, no putrid tomatoes, no horse flies biting the back of your head or gnats flying up your ears and nose, no yellow jackets and sweat bees hovering over your lunch, no hornet stings or lurking spiders or snakes, no more back aches, cuts and slices, blistered hands or twine burns or sunburns, banged up knees and shoulders and ankles, no more nervous nights in May and June, no more 4 AM mornings to 10 PM evenings, no more praying for rain – or the opposite – no more crabgrass or creeping bermuda, tap-rooted goose’s foot or invincible yellow dock, over-encumbering morning glory or the immortal bindweed, no broken cooler panics, or leaking and kinked hoses, missing washers and bolts to ruin your day, no groundhogs, rabbits or moles; no more blood, sweat or tears.
And there are no more strawberries or peaches, no more fresh stir fries with green onions and cilantro and Asian greens twelve different ways, no more dandelions or juneberries to forage, no mulberry kombucha or sweet melon, no more buckets of tomatoes and sweet peppers, Italian flat beans or spring carrots, wood sorrel or chickweed, no more ruby-throated hummingbirds floating a momentary query nor goldfinches to spy in the honeysuckle thicket, fresh tilled soil and burgeoning seedlings waiting in the nursery, no more thick stands of arugula or cultivated rows of carrots and radishes, no sprawling butternut vines or cucumbers hanging from the trellis, no plump pea pods playing hide and seek, no lavender sweetening the wind or fresh cut basil on the table; no more smell of spring rain. I don’t guess you get one without the other.
So what am I to do?
Last year around this time a fox came to wander about the farm. It seemed odd as we sit well into a neighborhood of houses, the nearest thick woods being still some ways away, not even to mention any wild, open land. No doubt in order to get to our little plot he must have walked right down the street! He moseyed around a little while we worked – cold and gray that day, I remember – every so often pouncing and pawing playfully after a regiment of moles trenching in for winter under our tarped beds. Beautiful, his fur like red winter wheat standing in the snow, his thick tail was pointed and exquisite, and black were his thieving legs, delicate – stately, even – like he was wearing fine midnight opera gloves.
But, Mr. Fox had a rough look about him, mange it could have been, or perhaps he was the runt of the litter and was pushed out of the pack in late summer – a tough time to be sure – but I like to think he was just a little like me at the end of a long season: happy and healthy but in need of a shower, a den, and a bowl of hot soup – and maybe a back scratch. Every so often he’d find a nice spot (it most usually happened to be just right where he was standing), yawn big and deep and curl up and take a little nap, his bushy tail wrapped around him like a blanket pulled up just below his eyes.
It seemed to me that Mr. Fox had nothing to do that day, so he headed out around town, eventually coming to see what the farmers were up to, mill about for a few hours and catch a nap or two; but I am sure he had a reason for stopping by (and dozing off repeatedly), though I couldn’t possibly know the purpose of his trip – such is nature. I remember being a bit jealous of him; I would even say that I aspired to be like him, when I could, when the weight of winter really bears down on you like a glacier – slow, heavy and impenetrable. Such an insulated time is good – necessary – for the soul; a warm igloo where the fires of creativity can be lit and fed, an opportunity for musings to become something more, or at least nothing less.
So, this is my winter strategy: to be like Mr. Fox: to be idle with purpose. I’m not quite sure what that looks like though something tells me a big pot of soup won’t ever be too far away. And of course making soup and eating soup both have more purpose than a lot of other things. I’d call myself lucky to fill my time with such delicious pursuits. But, who knows, maybe I’ll get restless and head out like Mr. Fox and go watch the townspeople running about their day; maybe I’ll get my cheeks cleaned up a little and knock the mud off my boots and go looking for an old red faced fiddle player with an anxious bow; or maybe I’ll find a hollowed out oak deep in the forest and crawl in and take a long nap. That all sounds just fine to me. Either way, I’ll be up here in late winter to check the neighbor’s great forsythia, the town herald of spring who wakens the tulips – for it’s far too important of a job to leave to those mischievous squirrels.