Thursday, September 22, 2011

Autumnal Equinox

J. and I decided on Monday to drive to the next county to an apple orchard we had seen advertised.
It was an old orchard, family owned, and located on a spur of road off the main highway.
We had expected to pick our own apples--a prospect which lost its appeal as a chilly drizzle turned to bursts of hard rain.
The elderly proprietor of the orchard had several bins of ready picked apples in his sales shed and we opted to take a bushel of Red Delicious and a half bushel of Winesaps.
Our second destination was the Mennonite produce auction.  We were early [not having to pick our apples] so went up the road a mile or so to the bulk foods store for whole wheat flour and a few items to stock my baking supply cupboard.
Produce was being arranged on pallets on the auction floor when we returned.  Some of it is brought in from away, but as we watched, several local Mennonite farmers arrived in buggies, bringing small amounts of their home grown produce.
I was intrigued to note that one fellow came clanking down the road on his iron-wheeled tractor, a huge umbrella fixed in place to shelter him from the drizzle.
His wife huddled on the trailer, seated amidst crates of squash and pumpkins.  She wore a zipped sweatshirt with her sprigged calico dress and apron and had a headscarf over her requisite white cap---but
 she had no umbrella!
The flowers were sold first--mostly ranks of mums in every possible color.  I liked the flats of pansies with their rain-dampened faces.

A gnarled and bent old fellow with a leathery face wheeled in several dozen of these potted mums. They were lovely in their full-blown state, but wouldn't 'hold' long if bought for resale.

Peppers have been an abundant crop this year.  These red ones stood out on such a gloomy day. 

Most of the produce in this aisle went in lots--the highest bidder being allowed to declare how many boxes he wished to purchase.
I had J. buy me a single box of sweet banana peppers.

J. likes the pickled sweet peppers in sandwiches and I have bought them before ready made.
It was tedious removing the seeds and slicing these, but once that was done it was quick work to bottle and process them in brine.

This stand of tall Michaelmas daisies must have been planted years ago.
They fill the space between the old grape arbor and the clothesline.
The recent rains have weighted them down.

These are likely one of the many hybrids available.
In the northeast where I grew up, the wildlings along the roadsides are known as New England Asters.
I have noted that in different locations the color can vary from a blue-purple through a clear deep purple.  Traveling through Ohio years ago in September I found asters of a deep dusty pink growing in roadside clumps where the thru-way rolled through farming country.  I'm guessing that the type of soil may alter the coloration within related wild varieties.

Hawkeye Belle.
I wasn't expecting to be so taken with this hardy shrub rose.
It has continued to bloom in spite of heat and drought and invasions of Japanese beetles.
With the return of cool moist weather it is producing a steady show of lightly scented blooms.

Double Red Knock-Out is likewise proving her worth as a landscape rose that takes all weather in stride.
Nearly every local dooryard that has flowers has a hedge or speciman plant of these tough survivors.

Yellow Simplicity has also appreciated the recent rains.
Some of her foliage is looking tatty but the blooms still captivate me.

A red salamander on the rain-wet steps that go out and up from the basement level.
I was on litter box duty and nearly put my foot down on the sally, noticing it at the last moment.

September is my favorite month of the year. Where ever I have lived I have noted the week of the autumnal equinox, stirred to restlessness by the storms of wind and rain which so often accompany this season.
I am Christian in my belief and practice, yet have empathy with those who honor the turning of the seasons from a pagan's perspective.
I grew up in the country, well versed in the folklore of weather and seasons. My father and my Grampa Mac who lived next door were men who knew and noted the harbingers of seasonal change, hoarding the recollected wisdom of other years which informed their predictions of weather to come.

With the hay crop stored and the oats harvested and threshed, Grampa Mac spent sunny autumn afternoons digging potatoes, lifting the onions and spreading them on the newspaper covered porch floor to dry.
The wide door to the dirt floored cellar stood open while the potatoes were trundled to wooden bins in the cooler chamber beyond the wood furnace. Great chunks of maple, beech and elm
[Grampa pronounced it 'ell-um'] were ranked along the walls opposite the squatting furnace.
The big crocks which would once have held a winter supply of sauerkraut or dill pickles or salt pork, stood empty now save for a few spiders.  The few glass jars of currant jelly and ripe cucumber pickles produced by my Uncle Bill lined the wooden shelves of the small first floor entry to the cellar just above the
 crooked wooden staircase. 
I loved the nose-crinkling reek of the place--packed earth, the homely smell of potatoes and onions, the slightly sour tang of the firewood. It was a small-scale labyrinth of damp rock walls which jutted unevenly, of beams and the furnace duct work to bump the heads of those adults who forgot to bend low.

Grampa Mac grew pumpkins in the field corn rows which had to be harvested by hand before the corn could be cut and chopped for silage.  These were laid tenderly on horse blankets in the bed of the horse-drawn wagon which was left parked near the porch until Grampa had time to sort the pumpkins and take them down to the cellar shelves. He kept seed of winter squash [Hubbards] from year to year, throwing some each spring onto the richness of the horse manure pile, sowing a handful in hills at the bottom of the vegetable garden.  Over the years the squash plants had "crossed" and we never knew whether the squash rinds would be deep orange, blue grey or dark green, whether their skins would be warted or smooth. If a squash when baked proved to particularly 'meaty' and sweet the seeds were set  in an old tin in the warming cupboard of the wood kitchen range, to be saved when dry in a carefully labeled screw-top jar.

Autumn sobers me with rainy days that seep into the early twilight of a chilly night.  Autumn exhilerates with afternoons of such golden light and warmth that to stay indoors is unthinkable.
Delicate woodland flowers and the blowsy heady-scented blooms of the summer perennial border
have given way to the astringency of Michalemas daisies and goldenrod,
 the tannin of wet oak leaves, and the rich scents of ripeness which stops short of decay.

Misty mornings are tinged with wood smoke, a fire more to comfort than a necessity.  In New England we watched the sky, listened anxiously to the weather reports especially as the September moon waxed full.  Many a September twilight found me tucking old sheets and towels and tattered grain sacks around tomato plants and tender herbs hoping to extend the harvest for another few weeks.
Here in Kentucky I am wary, not yet well acquainted with warmer seasons, but alert to protect my fall plantings of vegetables.
If I could have my way, where-ever I have lived, the joys and the harvest labors of September would be extended, shrinking winter to a mere month or two of cold and darkness.
As it is, each of these fleeting autumn days is savored to the full, stored in memory like the apples and the squash and the bins of potatoes are stored in the cellar, to be taken out as sustanence during the weeks when the earth and my garden sleep.


  1. What an interesting post. We used to go to produce auctions when we were still in Dorset, and many bargains to be had.

    I love your Grampa Mac reminiscences and wish I could match them with some of my own, but I had a rather ordinary childhood really . . . all of my grandparents were dead before I was born, or, in my dad's dad's case, when I was still very small, about 3 or 4.

  2. I have always loved michaelmas daisies, they are such a pretty little flower but because of the time they flower and the less sunny days they seem to be less noticeable to the eye.
    They are not a 'Hey look at me flower' if you know what I mean.

  3. What a beautiful post which takes me to a different place, a place where autumn is visible with the weather changes, colors of foliage, and the scents. It is not something we experience this far south and I thank you very much for this post.


  4. Loved your photos, like Farmer's Markets, out town has finally started one. And I'm like you Christian, but follow the seasons too and understand how people may be tuned to them.
    Love September and October.

  5. What an interesting post ...such a different life you live but I so enjoy a glimpse of it in your writing.
    I love October when we can get Pumpkins over here ...last year Vicki made pumpkin and apple jam and baked pumpkin cheese cake. This year I am going to puree some flesh and freeze it so we can enjoy baking with it at other times in the year.

    Those are fantastic photos again.

  6. Lovely photos and beautiful thoughts. Why don't you link to Seasonal Sundays?

    - The Tablecaper