I stepped outside at lunchtime several days ago, and felt a glorious breeze brush by, just hinting at a bit too cool... but so soon the breeze stopped, and the sun warmed away that tingle of... just exactly what was it that I felt?
There was no immediate rush, no pending urgency of which I was acutely aware, yet...there was something that I felt-- that defied definition.
The trail, after work was calling me.
I saw the sumac just as I rounded the first gentle bend, and it had begun to go red. And the goldenrod was coming into full bloom, rivaling only the queen Anne's lace for beauty.
Time was when my world was young, and the first day of school had come and gone. The berries had all been picked, and the beans and the tomatoes had all been canned. All that yet called were the fruits in the orchard.
It was soon time to dig out every bushel basket from the upstairs of the summer kitchen, and then load them on the wagon. Away to the orchard, the tractor chugged up the hill. The cap on the top of the muffler, flipping open and closed as the machine worked to haul us to appointed task.
As we pulled in beneath rows of apple trees, the smell hung in the air. It was the smell of autumn closing in. Apples on the grass beneath the trees, sticky and sweet, were covered with yellow jackets. We all wore shoes on that warm day because the yellow jackets were passionate about their apples; they seemed almost like mean little drunks--intoxicated with the sugar of that half-rotten fruit that covered the ground.
I watched my grandmother work... by then far too old to do much of the gathering--and even less of the picking. We stood on the wagon to get apples from low branches, and balancing on upturned metal 5 gallon buckets, we reached the ones that were just beyond the grasp of a child standing on the ground. We looked over what had already fallen--for recent drops, and chose whether it looked the effort to chance the run-in with the angry bees.
There was a Winesap on the upper eastern corner, and partway down the row was a Russet. Two rows in was a King apple and one to match it the next row over. There were banana apples and a summer apple tree. And somewhere on that top row was the Northern Spy, my grandma's favorite.
She sat on the wagon, sorting through what was being loaded. The fingers of her hands were as old and gnarled as the twisted branches of her aging apple trees. Occasionally, she shouted a question to my dad who--though in his late forties, was still just a boy to her.
And all the while the bees buzzed. Inevitably someone was stung and was excused to run down over the hill to the house. There, my mother was waiting with a box of baking soda--and a teaspoon of water at the ready.
Today, the brown-eyed-susans of my youth still bloom, though now they are Jerusalem artichokes "sunchokes". And the remnants of grandma's apple trees still stand, broken, diseased and overshadowed by wild cherries that have encroached upon the orchard's sacred ground. I will probably not venture into that fruit patch that no longer resembles the place of years ago. Wild brambles line its edges, and pokeberries stand tall, purple-black, and glossy in the late autumn sunshine.
I imagine that those twisted, old half-shadows of trees still produced some misshapen fruit. And when it lies on the ground, the yellow jackets buzz and zoom fiercely about the place, angrier and more aggressive than any other time of the year.
Wonder why they behave differently in late summer?
On down the trail I went, with deer flies occasionally becoming a nuisance. The wildflowers are spectacular this year. There are places where turtleheads, pink and palest of pink mingle...close-by to the aconitum-- the monkshood. The latter makes my thoughts drift and wander, and I can see the hood of medieval monks, coming and going, getting their little monasteries and surrounding buildings in order for the changing season, the coming winter. Yep... autumn closing in...
Across one bridge on the trail. Minnows swim in a small pool created by the bridge construction--a century ago.
I think of grandma, and her apples at the end of the day in the orchard. Tired, we all were for sure, but grandma would never let on.
The apples were hauled into the springhouse and set up off of the damp floor onto wooden shelves. There they would stay to be used for apple salad for thanksgiving, and for Christmas pies-- mixed with mincemeat, and we would have fresh applesauce the whole winter through.
Another bridge, and I see the Arrowood viburnum has begun to change, but in ways ever so subtle. Old people notice such things.
As I walk I am, at once, acutely aware of what I likely had subconsciously sensed days ago. There has been a change in the song in the air. The birds are all but silent, and have been replaced by crickets chirpsong, and the buzzing noises of autumn insects.
I check the time and see that I have to turn around and get home, things to do.
As I head north, I make a mental note of where the sunshine lays this time of day... and the shadows cast by the western edge of this valley are now long shadows indeed...
I pass a wild old crab apple tree, and my mind goes back to the apples in the springhouse. Looking at those gnarly branches on that wild tree, I see my grandma's fingers, twisted and crippled with age. She is in her rocking chair, and my younger sister and I are at home with her, everyone else is at school, or work. And she says, "Go down to the springhouse and get me a kettle of apples."
I do as I am told, smiling all the while because I have been given this chore before :-) I return with the apples, and grandma has an "old hickory" paring knife in her hand. She painstakingly peels an apple, then quarters it, and hands pieces to my sister and me. Then she eats some. This continues until we are plum sick of apples for the day.
Rounding the last bend, I see tall tall grasses, brown and stiff, protesting the breeze with the rustle of autumn. A yellow jacket flies by me.
I would not have to look at a calendar to know that summer has long since waned, and autumn is now waxing rapidly. The change in the sound of the air, the angle of the sunlight, the smells, the sounds, and maybe something else of which we are not consciously aware, that the yellow jackets full well understand.
Time is fleeting, and summer does not last but for the blink of an eye-- for all of us. So soon, our hands will be crippled and gnarled, and the apples will be lost in time, only brought back by an occasional remembrance. 'Time to gather your leaves together... autumn is closing in"...