Turning, Spinning, Falling into Fall

I walked to our vegetable gardens to see what we had still growing.  The sun still blazed high in the sky on one of those crisp-warm autumn afternoons.  I looked around, counting the heads of my children playing around the yard, noting the time and mentally checking the evening’s schedule.  “Why not?”  I wondered.

A few minutes later my fingers were wiggling inside my gardening gloves, the pair I’ve used for so long that there’s now a hole at the tip of one finger.  Spade in hand, I bent to pull my first weed — the first of many hundreds that need attention.   At first I was honestly swamped with more important tasks, but now avoidance is only that, the act of ignoring what seems unpleasant to deal with even though it will only get worse.  So I dig in, because part of happiness is simply doing what needs to be done.

I started with the tallest section of weeds, the section most pregnant with seeds ready to drop into my waiting soil and provide me with years of battles.  There is something heartening about feeling your way to the bottom of a weed, pulling carefully, and feeling the root come slithering out of it’s hole.  This time, however, the weeds seemed to be mocking me.  My every touch, while removing thousands of weeds from opportunity’s path, also sent hundreds of tiny seeds flying.  A little while later I glanced at the sleeves of my cardigan to discover haphazard seed decorations clinging to me.  (And why must I always begin weeding spontaneously, without pausing to consider what I’m wearing?  A white cardigan, Jennifer?  Really?)  Most of the weeds came willingly but a few required all my strength.  Gardening, I thought, is not for the faint of heart.

Eventually I found a nice rhythm to my work, and as my hands did their job my mind turned from the weeds in my yard to the weeds in our lives.  I thought about some of the weeds growing in the lives of my children and ways to pull them out.  I thought about how we don’t pull weeds only to clear space, but to fill space with better things.  It’s so easy to wish to root out a problem in behavior without remembering that it must be filled with something better, some skill or substitution that can take over that little plot and keep the weeds at bay.   My thoughts wandered father, going from detached observation to the place of worry and weight, then coming out on the other side as they became a silent prayer.

A large weed dislodged, my movements sending a group of garden spiders scurrying in search of a new home.  I pondered the idea that the weeds in our lives often give shelter to other problems.  Sometimes we let the weeds grow to cover the problem; other times the problem just moves into the comfortable quarters we’ve prepared for them.

My daughter joined me.  We decided to pick the gardens clean in case the weatherman was correct and temperatures would, indeed drop enough to destroy our plants.  I went from weeding to basking in the dazzling paradox of the gardens in October.  There they were, side by side, growth and decay.  There was brown where some herbs had already given up next to blossoms on the pepper plants.  The next box held tomato plants, these sprawling vines that become so ugly in late summer and yet were so heavy with new fruit it made me sad to touch them.   I admired their defiance as they continue to produce fruit as if in doing so they can hold back the clock.  I particularly loved my cherry tomato plant, how there was always a perfect cluster of little circles with one or two ripening early while the others held back in some shade of orange, yellow and green.  I love the heirloom purple tomatoes I planted from seeds.  They made it, against all odds, and I felt myself rooting for them, almost believing that if plants looked like this then the sun could hold still in the sky for them to ripen.

I realized I felt a lot like them.  I don’t have time for fall yet; I’m too deeply engaged in warm-weather activities.  The soccer seasons are only half over and nothing about my daily schedule is ready for these early sunsets.  I still need warm, still need light, to see this family comfortably through the next month.   I cast my lot with the tomatoes!  The thought made me smile.

Then I remembered feeling the same way last year, and walking away, leaving the tomatoes and hoping the weatherman was wrong.  He wasn’t, and I felt like I had let them down when I threw away all those mushy balls the next morning.  So we picked.  We got another basket and picked more.

I went back to weeding, making my way to the flowerbeds.  I weeded around my dianthus, which haven’t stopped blooming for a single day since I planted them in early summer.  I smiled at my Jacob’s ladder with it’s tiny purple bloom on top, newly opened to the world.  I leaned in to take a long, deep breath of the heavenly scent of honeysuckle, noting the flowers about to open.   The tomatoes aren’t alone.

Then there they were:  the bright red leaves of my burning bush, already fully changed and ready to drop.  There was the carpet of purple beneath the Russian sage.  I looked to the base of the Jacob’s ladder and saw bright yellow leaves.

Amid the lavender was a single stem of autumn leaves.  One leaf in particular caught my eye for it held all of autumn in it’s spectrum.  Green at one end, then changing subtly along it’s lines until the very tip was a crimson red.

I realized that my yard was as mixed up as my heart!  Plants conceding the season next to plants fighting the change.  New growth next to red leaves.  Every plant and tree in my yard is on it’s own schedule, regardless of the fact that today is the same October day for all of us.  I thought of that timeline again, the timeline of life which is shadowed by the timeline of my heart and how rarely the two match up perfectly.  All my silly thoughts about not deserving Fall yet because I haven’t done enough work, all my wishing that summer will stay longer, all of it is part of the season, part of the change.  Some days my heart rushes to greet Autumn with arms stretched out wide.  Some mornings I want pumpkins and sweaters, yet I’m smiling with gratitude for the heat of the afternoon sun.

A breeze rustled the leaves of a nearby tree, sending some twirling, tumbling, spinning, falling to the ground.  The chorus of a favorite hymn came to mind, “When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed. To turn, turn will be our delight, till by turning, turning we come round right.”

For me, movement from summer to autumn isn’t something gained in a single step, like walking through a door from outside to inside.  It’s a process of bowing, bending, turning then turning back.  All of a sudden I felt like those leaves spinning through the air, knowing that I would yet spin some more in my heart.  I’ll still have moments as a tomato cheerleader even when we’re raking piles of leaves to jump in.  I’ll turn, spin and fall into Fall until one day we’ll all be tucked in, come round right, ready for winter.  It struck me that watching your children grow up is a lot like an October afternoon in the garden.

The sky began turning pink as I picked up my tools and headed around front to call the children.  Surveying the vast work yet to tackle made me push back emotionally — again — against the calendar.  My neighbor stood nearby and we chatted for a moment, ending on the subject of the experimental tomatillos we grew this summer.  There we stood, the harvest all around us, talking excitedly about this year’s successes and sharing lessons learned for next year.  Spring is yet a long way off, but it will come, as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow.

Turning, spinning, falling.

I smiled as we all went inside at the close of the day.

Welcome Autumn.

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