Saturday my husband bought a leaf-blower. Last year we bought two rakes and tackled the lawn the old fashioned way. This year he is going for speed and power. Like all our new yard appliances—the lawn mower, the trimmer, the chainsaw, the snow blower—the new leaf blower seems oversized to me, but this is a big yard and Fall is here. Leaves are falling by the minute. Just a few weekends ago, the air conditioner struggled to keep the house cool in a heat wave that was accompanied by health warnings. Now the days are cool and the nights a bit nippy. (Still last night a few mosquitos showed up for one last binge.) The green is giving way to a riot of orange, red and yellow. Fall in New England can be spectacular.
The first sign of Fall here is the sudden profusion of mums. Flower pots of mums appear on people’s doorsteps. Racks of them can be found outside the grocery stores and the nurseries (many of which will close after Thanksgiving). I bought three mums from the high school crew team. I bought three others at my favorite farm stand where I will also buy my pumpkins.
The farm stands have begun to feature locally grown apples and pears. People wander in, asking for Macoun apples, a variety I had never heard of until last year. I buy Gingergolds and Paula Reds, along with some early Macintoshes. My favorite farm store, the Pick n patch, now sells apple cider since the local cider mill, after being in business one hundred years, was torn down this spring to make way for a state of the art charter school. Cider doughnuts are available at both the farm stands and the local doughnut store, Luke’s (a place that is such a tradition, it is mentioned in two novels written by authors with ties to this area). The summer squashes are almost gone but the winter squashes (and pumpkins) are coming into season. Those who can their own marinara trek to the Pick n Patch to pick the plum tomatoes. Some days I am irritated that my vegetable options are more limited than what I could buy at my SoCal farmer’s market, but I have adjusted. Last week I made a chili using dried kidney beans and locally grown cranberry beans. I made a three bean salad of yellow wax beans, green beans and the cranberry beans, garnished with a locally grown red onion and my own herbs. Sunday evening we feasted on locally grown Yukon gold potatoes and white onions, roasted with a pork loin that was brined with the locally made cider. I will miss the fresh produce when the stands close between Thanksgiving and May.
I still marvel at the seasons but part of my wonder is that each season is unique and unpredictable. The leaves are falling, the colors are beautiful yet people worry about possible snowstorms (2011 ) or hurricanes (2012). Will the children be able to go trick or treating? Are we ready for the storms? How many snow days will we have? When will the school year end? People get their chimneys swept and buy firewood. In the next few weeks, the lawn furniture will be put away and the snow blowers moved from the back of the garage. And not just the people scurry to prepare for winter. On my bike ride today, a chipmunk dodged my wheels, a squirrel dove in front of my tire and a doe stepped onto the path and stopped, staring at me with her large brown eyes, causing me to slam on my brakes before she bounded back into the woods. In the afternoon a pair of turkeys wandered down the driveway, not at all concerned about the holiday next month. All of nature seems intent on preparing for the next season.
Winter can be a cruel time. Our first winter here was mild, and, as a result, the first spring in our house the squirrels were so plentiful, two teams scampered on our basketball court. Six more lounged on our front yard. Chipmunks chattered on the edge of the woods and ran under our deck. In the fall, we watched the great squirrel migration. After a prolonged and cold winter, only a few shy gray squirrels emerged from their nests in the trees. The chipmunks had disappeared from the burrows near the house. An owl made the survivors wary. We sighted more bears and deer this summer than last, but fewer toads, squirrels and chipmunks. Now acorns lay neglected on the ground. The bears will probably be back for them.
Perhaps in the autumn of my own life, I am enjoying the unpredictability of weather in the Northeast more than I would have when I was younger. I am no longer chasing children or teaching adolescents. I am not ruled by schedules as I once was. My days are more flexible and I have time to stop and watch a bird on a broken tree limb or the deer marching through the woods. I can appreciate the capriciousness of Mother Nature because she puts on a terrific show.