The rain is falling outside for the first time in weeks; it’s a sound I love. It’s also surprisingly cold, and the leaves are suddenly coming down faster, and it makes me realize that this weekend, or maybe next is peak leaf weekend. And then we’re heading downhill fast toward the dead of winter.
I try not to think this way, most of the time. I try to stay more centered in where I am and what is beautiful there. And so I’m supporting those habits by spending a lot more time appreciating the rituals of fall, especially since this is the first year in a while I’ve had that luxury. (Babies do not permit a great deal of house-and-garden time, at least not mine.) So here’s what that looks like:
1. Mums on the steps, orange, white, and maroon. A daily reminder of what’s lovely and right, even when we’re barreling past them with arms full of squealing, squirming kids en route to or from some hideous ordeal like the grocery store.
2. PUMPKINS on the steps. This is totally new to me, since I’m one of those freak shows who sees the pumpkin primarily as a foodstuff rather than an item of decor. But today at the farmers’ market, as I’m asking Ezra if we should buy one pumpkin “to look at and then to eat,” our farmer Trent Emery (of Emery Farms; love them a lot) points out that he has sacks of ten pumpkins for ten bucks. Sugar pumpkins. In great shape. Decorate and then devour. That’s right. Who am I to say no to a sack of pumpkins?
3. Leaves actually getting raked. Since it’s been so dry, they’ve been incredibly easy to manage, and it’s become my little twenty-minute workout to whisk them into the driveway and then on down the slope to our Massive Epic Leaf Pile at the bottom. The kids are doing a banner job of breaking them down into the leaf-crumbs that I like to put all through my garden beds, so this is a win-win-win.
4. Finally doing some serious weeding of the garden and, eventually, harvesting the last of things. But if the weather is mild, we can harvest kale without protection through early December. Putting the garden to bed isn’t quite as finite and rhythmic a process as one might imagine.
5. Mulching the perennial beds. Poor things, they straggle through the summer without the moisture they need because I’m cheap and water-conscious (okay, and lazy), and then fall comes and they get an inch of mulch and suddenly revive. Makes me realize what lovely gardens I’d have if I, you know, tended them.
All this settling in, tending to, quieting down has made me think more about the kids’ bedtimes, and ours, too. After all, we’re organisms in need of rest as well. I’ve tended to focus on the obvious: the stories, the sips of water, the schedules and routines. But I find the outside gives me new perspective on the insides, too. My understanding of the value of blankets shifts after watching the plants respond to the mulch: it’s not just about keeping out the cold, but about snuggling, protection, nests. My imagination of my children’s needs shifts after thinking through the garden soil and its many forms of symbiosis: no organism stands alone, and sometimes we want company and stories together, and sometimes we just need the nurture of one primary caregiver. Sometimes we need water, sometimes mama milk, sometimes a snuggle-animal, sometimes light, sometimes dark. We probably meet the needs anyway, since that’s pretty much our job, but there’s a difference between scattering fertilizer and layering compost. There’s a difference between rushing through a story and giving the characters their full voices. I save the singing for the crib-time, after the nursing, just as I save the compost for the spring, just as I rarely water. But why? My garden survives on this rhythm, but it could do better. Listening and watching and smelling and being THERE can help us understand the whole range of organic needs that our people and plants profess, including the need to thrive, to blossom, to yield fruit, to be the whole and stunning miracles they can be.