The Fall Garden

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“Then there are those who plant. They endure storms and all the vicissitudes of the seasons, and they rarely rest. But unlike a building, a garden never stops growing. And while it requires the gardener’s constant attention, it also allows life for the gardener to be a great adventure.”  Paul Coelho

When I was kid, autumn was my favorite season.  For most of the summer, I stayed with my grandparents in Maine.  Back then, school started after Labor Day and I returned home to Massachusetts well into September.  I loved the subtle melancholy cool of late August nights that announced fall’s return with its promise of color and bright skies that would eventually descend into cold grey and darkness.  I felt the descent.  Even as a child, autumn made me aware of life’s brilliant decay.

Spring’s showy resurrection green was never as compelling.

I’ve lived in Austin for twenty-five years, half my life thus far.  In an alchemy of getting older and the seasonal cycle of Central Texas, my feelings about autumn have reversed course.  It’s still my favorite season, but now I feel the restorative ascent that comes with the end of a Texas summer.

For me, a fall vegetable garden is the epitome of renewal.

October marks my first year at the community garden.  My 10×10 plot is surrounded by two-hundred other gardeners.  Last year I got a late start on my fall garden and spent most of my time settling in and trying to rediscover my green thumb. The prior gardeners’ presence lingered and made me respectfully conservative with my plans.

I made it through winter’s oddly frequent freezing snaps and managed to save most of my cabbages, kale, artichokes and beets. By the time spring arrived, the hundred-square feet of dirt was mine.  I had the best spring and summer yields of my haphazard gardening history.

Finally, autumn has arrived to pull back summer’s blanket of relentless heat and scorching sunlight that squeezes the color out of the world.  Even the old timers, the hearty, smiling, veteran gardeners who generously mentor me in the ways of growing, let their plots burn up in the August sun.

It’s the ever-so-slight crispness of late September mornings that summons us back to the garden.  It’s not the garden we abandoned with its verdant organized rows of domesticated nature.  Entropy rules the universe and nowhere is it more obvious than an untended garden.

Tomato plants are shackled in cages, slumped life-less and brown.  Every inch of soil is host to the wild plants that have stealthy roots, burs and stinging stickers to remind you of their tenacity.  They choke out the few remaining peppers and hide the cucumber and squash carcasses.

Autumn in Central Texas is not as conspicious as its New England counterpart. Instead of bedazzling the landscape before a winter’s sleep,  it tempers the extremes of summer and offers up the quiet possibility of balance before the darkness.

I approach the fall garden as a re-awakening.  It challenges me to try again.  To pick up a shovel and turn the earth, to sift through the chaos patiently and restore order. It doesn’t matter that the cycle will go around again, it’s the effort that has meaning. The time spent doing serves the ascent.