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When Summer Gets Gobbled Down

I awoke today and found

Midd Falls 9-21-11Frost perched on the town

It hovered in a frozen sky

And gobbled summer down

-Joni Mitchell, “Urge for Going”

The firewood truck came yesterday. A cord of the sweetest smelling maple and oak and even some birch, from the venerable A. Johnson operation.

It costs more than twice what we were used to paying, but it’s worth every penny when the kiln-dried wood bursts into winter warmth.

For now there’s a giant pile of happy looking logs in the driveway, covered by tarps and protected from the inevitable rains. It’ll be stacked within the shed in increasingly large and perilous piles. Advil will ease the accompanying sore back.

But first the shed itself needs some work: Skis and snow shovel to the front, garden tools and leftover grass seed to the back.

The deicer and last winter’s bags of sand find a handy new home near the shed door. The fertilizer and golf bag – hmm, never did get out on the course this year – get squirreled away in the rear. They await another year’s optimism.

Stacking the wood in the shed is just one of a hundred rituals this time of year.

The window screens and screen doors come off. T-shirts and shorts get crammed into bags under the spare bed. There ensues the yearly hunt for long johns and that elusive pair of matching gloves.

Prayers are said that the moths haven’t found the sweaters, and that those flannel-lined blue jeans will still fit for one more winter.

Every trip into town these days is an adventure in toleration. Yes, we love all these friendly visitors and their infusions into the local economy. And their rapt attention to every red leaf and stately building prompts us to look with fresh appreciation upon where we live.

But just try getting a Saturday night dinner reservation. Thrill to the site of lumbering tour buses negotiating byways meant for horse-drawn carts.

And please patiently wait your turn in line at the café. At least until a friendly staff person spots you as a regular, and surreptitiously slips you your order as the out-of-towners wait.

Smart people, those café staff. They know who will be around come February, and who will be back in Boston.

Friday nights in town bring the distant rumble of a football announcer’s voice. There are signs for Halloween events and earnest talks by authors and folk concerts by folkies. With the kids ensconced in institutions of lower learning, we know to plan a few extra minutes for getting through traffic at the beginning and end of the school day.

Back at home the gardens are the scene of decay, it is true. But also of triumph.

The zinnias have lost their zest. But the hollyhocks hold on — for which the slow moving bees of morning are grateful as they pile on yet more pollen and bring it home to the queen.

The green beans have now withered in early frost. But as if they had sensed their coming destruction, in the space of just 10 days they flowered and popped out their last long strings of fruit.

The lettuce is long gone but the chard hangs on. And who can account for kale’s love of the cold? Brussels sprouts, too, springing forth their little mini-cabbages on long stalks. Harbingers of the Thanksgiving feast to come.

A few beets — one of them grown to the size of a softball just for fun — await their journey to the kitchen. Beside them in rows, too, are the carrot stragglers, protected for now by their little dirt jackets.

In the compost pile, things are as usual composting all too slowly. There are still a few volunteer vegetables risen from the muck, offering tiger-striped cherry tomatoes that look all too exotic for October.

Also in the compost, the enormous sunflowers that burst forth from last year’s seeds have stopped flowering. But their stalks remain, and late-lingering birds are feasting on the seeds.

Goldfinches filching a seedy lunch make for a far better show than that at any bird feeder. And so far at least, no bear has found the sunflowers and wrestled them to the ground, as bears like to do with bird feeders.

There’s much to celebrate this time of year. As the passing of light and warmth remind us, it’s time to savor the moment.

Soak up every warm afternoon sun. Say a silent thanks for the leaves that remain clinging to trees. For just a moment, set aside the encroaching dread of stick season.

Live in the Now, because the Later could suck.

In these last beautiful days, the woods begin to open up for walking. As the leaves fall, mountains rise, no longer hidden in the distance. Turkeys reappear from wherever they spend the summer. The coyotes are yodeling their lonely songs.

In the rivers, giant brown trout are said to be feeding voraciously and easy to catch this time of year. Personal experience, however, has yet to verify this assertion.

Morning comes late, and chilly. Some days just stay cool now. Pop outside after 9 p.m. and you’re sure to need a jacket. Soon the peaks will wear a snowy hat and we will contemplate the deep freeze that awaits.

This time of year, even the barn cat likes to come in early.

I’d like to call back summertime

And ask her if she’d stay a month or so

But she got the urge for going

And I’ll have to let her go.

-30 –

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