Friday, October 16, 2009

Seasons Between

Early morning sun strikes the foothills to the west, turning snow to gold dust and browned grasses to dusky orange.

The cottonwood by the cabin stands in the glow of morning; its frost-blasted leaves cling tenaciously, while those on the fallen branches below are crisp and dry.

The morning sun touches the foothills before it slants down to warm the dooryard.

The pond this morning. The green leaves on these trees won't have their moment of fall glory--they are pinched and wizened.

The farmhouse [1959] "banked" against winter's snow and cold. You can see the dark lengths of tarpaper and the strips of lath nailed to keep it snug.
Afternoon temperatures the past two days have climbed to nearly 60 degrees F, although the mornings are crispy and dark. When I stepped onto the front porch this morning with my camera to record the burnished gold of the sun's reflection, the bellowing and blatting of the Black Angus cattle a mile or two away carried on the air. Sparrows were at the feeder, but not the cheerful juncos who were such a constant presence while snow covered the ground.
Arriving home from the quilt shop at 5 with several bags of groceries, I shoved the perishables into the fridge, pulled on my shiny wellies and went out to enjoy the last hour of sunshine. There were Mallards on the pond when I approached, at least half a dozen. I tried to creep up on them, but they always sense when I am near. I attempted to focus the camera on them as they rose, squawking and splashing, to wheel away over the house. I had no better luck in catching the Flicker family. They were visible in the top of their special drilled-out tree, but flew away in noisy alarm when they noticed me standing below them in the pasture.
I have always loved autumn, that brief season that defies confinment to a span of weeks on the calendar. As a girl, living next door to my grandfather's farm, I felt that I was a part of the preparations for winter, sensed the urgency of the late harvest, the need for everything to be secure and warm before the killing frosts.
Grampa planted pumpkins amongst a small stand of field corn. Hubbard squash seeds, saved from the year before and flung by the handful onto the black richness of the horse manure pile, yielded an interesting assortment of grey-blue, dark green or orange warty shapes. The pumpkins came up from the field in the bed of the horse-drawn wagon, the squash were trundled through the gate and around to the front porch by wheelbarrow, all to be laid carefully on horse blankets and tarps to cure for a few last warm days.
Potatoes were dug from the patch across the brook, pale brown-skinned treasures eagerly combed from the clinging earth after my grandfather had pulled the withered tops and loosened the soil with his claw-fingered digger. Onions were dislodged from their row in the vegetable garden near the back porch, the dried soil thumbed away before they were taken down to the cool-smelling depths of the cellar, where the potatoes already rested in big wooden bins.
Hardwood, maple, beech and ash, had been culled from the hedgerows and the woods. Now on mellow, blue-sky days the iron-wheeled Fordson tractor chuffed steadily, providing power to run the circular saw which shivered the air with its harsh screech as the men, leather-gloved, shoved the lengths of wood into its metal teeth. The biggest chunks were carted around to the cellar bulkhead to be fed by my uncle into the fire-black mouth of the furnace. Smaller limbwood for the kitchen range and the living room stove went into the woodshed off the kitchen entry, to be meticulously lined against the left-hand wall. Chunks to be split were stacked around the other walls with a space left open for the chopping block. I loved to sit on an upended butt of maple while Grampa's ax flashed in measured strokes reducing each grey-barked round to useable size. When he finished, I would stand with arms out stretched to be "loaded" with pieces to carry to the woodbox, a tidy one with a small square door on the woodshed side and a proper door from the kitchen into the cubby.
Banking the foundation of the house was one of my Uncle's autumn tasks. On one of the first really chilly days, he brought out rolls of tarpaper, insulation batts, some short lengths of roofing tin, strips of lath. A few yards at a time, the insulation and any available dry leaves, old hay or straw, were mounded against the stone and concrete foundation of the house, covered with a length of tarpaper or tin, which was then secured with a strip of lath nailed through to the bottom clapboards of the house. While the north wind swished through the last red leaves clinging to the dooryard maples, we worked our way around the east-facing wall of the kitchen ell, turned the corner to the north end of the house proper, and then, late in the afternoon, finished the west wall which ran the breadth of the old farmhouse. Heading to put away his tools, Uncle would glance eastward to Brandon Gap and utter his stock weather remark, "It's snowing on the mountains!"
I was content on those October days to scuff home from school through drifts of yellow leaves, stopping to watch the squirrels that ran along the stone walls, cheeks bulging with hickory or butternuts. Quickly changing at home to warm play clothes I hurried back to my grandfather's dooryard to sit on the west doorsill soaking in the last hour of sunlight, seeing how each day the grey bones of the trees across the brook were more visible, etched against the darker line of the woods that loomed against the reddening sunset. If the wind came up cold, I retreated to the front porch or climbed one of the hay stacks where my sister and I could rearrange a few bales, making a cavity large enough for two to sit with only our faces taking the chill as early dusk encircled the sheds and barns. The hay stack became a fort, a house, most often a stagecoach, carrying us on to the destination of supper at home, wafted there on the scent of woodsmoke, apples and drying leaves.


  1. Hullo MM,
    Beautiful. As you know this kind of post just sings to my sensibilities. This is a lovely elegy to family and to childhood. Very evocative.

    I had such a strong picture of the wee lassie o' days past sitting on the doorstep, held in place by the familiarity of the house behind, knowing it was the very best place to be, but not yet knowing why. I walked with you and the bulging cheeked squirrels home and could feel kicked leaves on bare legs.
    I heard the tractor chuff and the tatties being 'howked', could almost smell the tatties and shaws {stems} and hear the snick of the axe passing through the split logs.

    Cheers, you have given me a lovely start to the day.

    kind regards....Al.

  2. It's late and I have to come back later to dwell on your beautiful writing. But as for birds flying away when you turn the camera on them, I have decided that they can see the glint of light or reflection on the lens and they take off. Missed a lot of good shots because of this.

  3. What lovely photos, and SUCH an evocative piece of writing about your childhood memories. How I wish I had memories of my grandfathers. Sadly, both mums' parents died before I was born, so I never knew them, and my paternal gran died back in the 30s. I don't remember my paternal grandfather as he died when I was only about 3 years old, but he did know me, which is some comfort.

    Reading about your memories makes me realize how simple skills and knowledge are passed down through families - what a shame that these days, the parents don't seem to have that many skills or knowledge or memories . . . to pass on. I feel that is a terrible indictment on modern families.

  4. First I was drawn in by your beautiful shots but then your words captured me and I was enthralled right to the last word.
    Had to smile about the lost mallard shot ... how I wish that we had cameras fixed to our eyes and all we needed to do was queeze them shut and we recorded what we saw 'the blink of an eye'

  5. Al: Your comment has captured the security that I instinctively sensed at my grandfather's house. It was a far more intriguing place than the little rectangle of a house that my parents had built just over the road. The rhythms of his farming life, overlaid by the cycle of the seasons set the pattern for my own life.
    Chris: I hadn't thought of the reflection on the camera lens as catching the eye of the ducks and birds, but that seems possible. My new camera has a wide view finder which reflects my own face and objects behind me when I'm trying to focus--very annoying.
    BB: I think you are right about modern families--all too busy to do things together, simple things which make a connection to the earth and the weather and between the generations.
    I grew up next door to my maternal grandfather, my grandmother having died when my mother was only 9. My Dad's father passed away when he, one of the younger siblings, was in his teens and our relationship with his Mother was rather a formal one of visiting on holidays and sitting stiffly in the tiny stuffy living room.
    Angie: what a cunning way that would be to take the best photos! By the time I have even my "point and shoot" camera turned on and focused the wildlife has taken off on wings or four legs.
    Thank you all for the comments.

  6. I too enjoyed your wonderful evocation of the autumns of your childhood MM. It took me back to my own. Walking to school through village lanes, finding chestnuts and acorns underfoot and watching the farmers and small holders gather their harvest in.