Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Operation "Make Fall Fun"

I love the fall, but it's always hard to make the transition from the warm vibrance of summer. I mentioned the end of summer to a friend the other day, and he groaned and asked me not to talk about it. It's especially tough here in the PNW where our summers are so short and haphazard. Luckily, we had an amazing, mostly sunny month of September, but now October has hit with shorter darker days and a deep chill to the night air. Of course, there's nothing we can do about it, so I think it best to embrace this fall. Heck, even make it fun! That's what I told my reluctant friend- time to get excited and proactive about this beautiful, darkening time of year.
Here are some ideas that help me...

* Cultivate forgotten indoor activities: Cook! Renew your netflix subscription! Play board games! Sew! Knit hats! Write an artful letter to your aunt! Read those books that have been on your list. I've started reading more again, most recently Bird By Bird (Anne Lamott), Rabbit, Run (John Updike), and The One-Straw Revolution (Masanobu Fukuoka).

*Eat 'harvest' foods: There is so much amazing food this time of year! It's the best of end of summer with (finally!) ripe tomatoes, beans, greens, cucumber, corn, and zucchini, but the winter squashes are in too. I love seeing pumpkins at the stores, and I got inspired by this month's Sunset magazine to try some new pumpkin recipes. I made the Cashew, Coconut, and Pumpkin Curry which was great, and I still have my eye on the pumpkin gingersnap ice cream and caramelized orange pumpkin flan. With all this food in season, it's also a great time to start canning if you haven't already. Last week I was in Bellingham and stopped by Joe's Garden and couldn't pass up the 25 pound box of beets. Twenty-five pounds! I did a big round of pickling of beets, green beans, and carrots, and something about all those different colors in glass mason jars makes my heart warm and grateful.
*Keep playing outside: Just because it's a bit cooler and wetter, doesn't mean you should stay indoors! Seattle rarely gets that cold; in fact, it always looks worse out than it really is. Once you are outside and moving, you're fine. Fall hikes are awesome with the changing colors, and on the Washington Trails Association website, you can even search for hikes by where there are the best colors! I find I also really enjoy working in the garden, and there is plenty to do this time of year- harvest what's ready, pull out what's done, leave root crops to overwinter, save seeds, transplant brassicas, sow cover crop, build cloches, etc. If you need inspiration or new garden skills, consider taking an adult garden education class at Seattle Tilth.

*Rediscover your cute, functional fall clothes: Scarves! Hats! That really cozy down jacket! That awesome sweater! Fashion rain boots! Boots with skirts and leggings!

*Drink fall cocktails: Just as food changes by season, so should drinks. This summer I was mostly enjoying summer beers, Pimm's #1 Cups, gin and tonics, and mojitos with basil. But now I'm thinking of pumpkin ales, apple cider, bourbon, and warm drinks. There are lots of recipes online for general autumn mixed drinks here and here. Another idea- bloody mary's with my home-pickled carrots sticks and green beans, instead of a celery stick.

Monday, October 10, 2011

"October 10"

by Wendell Berry

Now constantly there is the sound,
quieter than rain,
of the leaves falling.

Under their loosening bright
gold, the sycamore limbs
bleach whiter.

Now the only flowers
are beeweed and aster, spray
of their white and lavender
over the brown leaves.

The calling of a crow sounds
loud-a landmark- now
that the life of summer falls
silent, and the nights grow.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Today did not go at all how I planned.

My good friend T is in Seattle, visiting "home" for a few days before making the move from Atlanta to DC. She and I were going to go hiking near Granite Falls, and we stopped at my mom's house on the way.

We walked inside, and T asked, "Uh, is your dog okay?" I hadn't gotten a good look at Cleo, our family dog, and replied, "Yeah, she's just gotten sick recently." And she has. She's been in good health her whole 12 years of life, then suddenly about 3 weeks ago, she started coughing and getting droopy eyes, and went into a rapid decline with bronchial infections, ear problems, went blind, had a stroke, stopped walking, and got diagnosed with a thyroid condition.

"But... the blood?" T asked. I walked farther into the kitchen to see Cleo laying on her doggie bed, breathing heavily and foaming blood at the mouth. There was diarrhea and bloody saliva and vomit smeared all over the kitchen floor and cabinets. She was panting so I held up her water bowl which she drank ravenously, then promptly puked back up. It was so hard to see her like that, clearly suffering, disoriented, and having some kind of major organ failure.

We decided to put her down, with the vet's agreeing and saying it was likely that she had some kind of cancer. I hope she is in a better, pain-free place, and she will be so sorely missed in our family. We drove back to the house in the rain, bleary-eyed and empty. T was so sweet and supportive though it all, and helped clean when we got home. As she finished mopping the floor and getting the last of the blood spots, she got a phone call that one of her coworkers back east had died unexpectedly. It felt like a dark day. I couldn't help but listen to some Ani Difranco: "Sky is grey, sand is grey, the ocean is grey/And I feel right at home, in this stunning monochrome/Alone in my way."

We didn't have time for the hike, but walked around drizzly Discovery Park as a back-up plan. Conversation invariable centered on life, love, and loss... and how all those things don't always go how we plan. What would our 19 year-old selves think of our 29 year-old selves? Would we be disappointed? Inspired? Disillusioned? Feel like we were on-track?

My answer? It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what we always thought we would do, where we would live, who we would marry. Dreams change and morph and disintegrate and are reborn all the time, and that's okay. You could say it's the decreased idealism that comes with age, but I think it's more like a wisdom that comes with understanding the unpredictable nature of life. And with the perspective that living with honesty, intention, love, and joy is how I measure greatness... not the same sense of epic grandeur that cradled my younger visions. There is a sense of loss of letting go of those dreams, but I have to remember that mostly I am losing an idea that existed in my mind, and not losing a physical thing. And now, more than ever, I want to interact with what is here and real, and not the idea of something off in the future. I want to get my hands dirty. I want to love earnestly. I want to regret something I did, not something I didn't do.

We kept talking through the glowy green forest and sitting on the grey sand grey sky beach. We made new dreams. We talked about bikes and her love of climbing and my love of gardens. We decided that a romantic relationship changing form 6 and 8 years later, respectively, is not the worst thing in the world. That maybe things started to end before the end, and there is new honesty that happens in breakups. That you can't fear doing something just because one day you might be disappointed or hurt. That that is a normal, healthy part of the The Way Things Work.

We loved Cleo dearly for the decade she was with our family. My heart still felt raw and my eyes stingy in the evening when I headed to an Organic Gardening class at Seattle Tilth. Tonight was the last class in a 4-week series, and we were talking about seed-saving. Students and instructors were sharing seeds, and took what seeds we wanted from brown paper bags- coarse, huge nasturtiums, tiny red broccali raab in their fingery pods, uniform smooth favas, black nigella coming out of spiny pods, dense round brown cilantro. Somehow it was the perfect end to this dark day, the reminder of our ability to save seeds, to cultivate abundance, to trust in the tiniest of things, to look forward to spring, to accept life's cycles, and to know that new growth is inevitable.