Logo
Print this page

Reflections on fall

Vegetable gardens are shown on the campus of the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Mich. The congregation has devoted part of their land to permaculture, allowing plants, animals and insects to co-exist in a natural ecosystem. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski) Vegetable gardens are shown on the campus of the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Mich. The congregation has devoted part of their land to permaculture, allowing plants, animals and insects to co-exist in a natural ecosystem.
The first hard frost changes everything.
 
It tends to come to my garden a bit later than it does to a friend’s garden 10 miles further out, but come it does, and I can see its unmistakable arrival first thing in the morning from my bathroom window. In the night it has formed fanciful patterns on the glass and turned the front yard crystalline white; I know then that the last of the vegetables I was hoping to eke out for another week or so are beyond eking. The frost has had its way, and the season has come to its inevitable close.
 
Later, when the mid-morning sun has dissolved the chill, I go out to survey what is left. Stalks droop and leaves are shriveled; what was once so green has gone a shade of grayish brown. It is a melancholy sight, and both mourning and gratitude get mixed up in my mind – mourning for what is past, but deep gratitude that there was ever a splendid garden there to begin with. 
 
And make no mistake, it was splendid.
 
To the untrained eye, it would seem as if everything is now over and done with, but in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is if I’m to have another cup of coffee, it won’t be inside next to a cozy wood stove but right out here next to the compost pile. The new season is about to begin, and I have work to do.
 
The most important thing any gardener grows in a garden is the soil, and that process has to begin long before the first shoots of spring appear. That’s because it takes time, time for old things to break down and break apart, to return to the soil they originally came from so that new things can grow from them. That’s the brilliance of the compost pile – last year’s tomato vines become the rich humus for next year’s tomatoes. Dead leaves from the now bare trees are shredded to eventually enrich the lettuce patch, and all those dried egg shells contributed by the neighbor’s chickens will show up next summer as deep purple eggplants.
 
Then, having been cleaned and turned and composted, the garden slips into a much- deserved slumber. Frost gives way to snow, with storm after storm laying down nature’s thick blanket, and for at least four months, the garden is silent and asleep.  Nothing is happening.
 
Or so it seems. 
 
The seasoned gardener, however, knows better, which is why January’s seed catalogues fan the flames of both faith and hope. By March, grow lights appear indoors even as temperatures outdoors hover around freezing, and soon tiny plants in converted yogurt cups send out their first hopeful leaves. Outside, the snow that hid the garden so well now melts into the soil, nudging it awake, and vegetable beds, so tired in the fall, are warm and fragrant with earthy possibilities.
 
 
If the first hard frost changes everything, it’s the last hard frost that changes them even more.
 
 
Last modified onMonday, 11 September 2017 09:23
Kay Winchester

Kay Winchester lives and works in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Vermont Catholic Magazine © 2016 Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington