Always A Dance with Time

I had thought I’d write an article entitled “How to Walk through the Forest,” extolling the beauties and mysteries of the woods at this, or any time of the year.

And I still want to write it, but autumn beckons, and I sit, typing at this computer, watching through the window as the yellow and gold and amber leaves flutter slowly to the earth, as though reluctant to leave the tree and its memories of a glorious summer.

There is an urgency to this season. Leaves must fall. Days must shorten. Frost threatens, then arrives, and stays. Overhead, the birds mass, calling and twittering to each other, and then that moment of silence, shocking in its intensity, when together, they soar, and the air is so still you can hear the beating of their wings, and the sky darkens as if mourning their departure.

I feel I should be stocking up; harvesting, canning, drying food, planting, tilling and digging. There isn’t enough of me to spread over this season.

I want to make new flower beds. I want to plant trilliums and hostas, daylilies and anemones, ferns and spotted gingers and bulbs – lots and lots of bulbs – to welcome spring in the way it deserves.

And I want to sit on the porch, sipping coffee, or perhaps a glass of wine, leafing through all the gardening magazines I put away for the winter. I’d like to read a novel. A mystery perhaps, something frivolous and unnecessary and fun. I have a bank of books saved up for the winter and I’d like to begin sampling them now.

I want to put my plants away for the winter. I want to take long walks, looking at the leaves, checking out our new beaver colonies in the swamp, searching the forest for seed from trillium and jack-in-the-pulpit and dollberry.

Gone are the days when I spent much of my autumn harvesting the food we’d grown all summer. Covering the tomatoes one last time, eking out a few more days of ripening against the bitter frosts. Then wrapping underripe fruit in newspaper and storing them in the basement so we could enjoy tomatoes at Christmas and New Year’s. (The accomplishment was in the doing, not the taste.) Endless jars of spaghetti sauce, and chili sauce and canned tomatoes and juice. Batches of apple butter, and plum jam and pickled beets. Onions and potatoes curing on newspaper. A kind of security against the coming cold.

I’d like to do that still. But there are not enough hours in the day. We rise early and work till dark. In a way, we’re squirreling away hours of sunshine, like we once did food, against the approaching winter.

We collect wagon load after wagon load of plants, and discuss which to put in the greenhouse, which to leave outside, which to force for early spring sales, which to reserve for propagation. Conversation is amicable. We’re having a good time.

Plants are hauled to the back behind the greenhouse, labeled and tagged and laid down on wooden skids in anticipation of the snow which will keep them groggy, but only half asleep, still growing over winter, but slowly, sluggishly. That’s it. That’s winterizing at WildThings.

We clear out old areas, clean through stock, discarding and composting. We discover plants we had forgotten. It’s like falling in love all over again.

We’re building a new greenhouse. We weed and lay down tarp and clear away more plants and measure and pace. It’s a good thing, and I’m happy the business is growing (More plants! More plants! Yahoo!).

We haul and lift and fetch and carry. We transplant and pot up and sow seed and weed. There are not enough hours in the day. Each evening, as the sun sets, I rake leaves. It’s my reward after a long day of work. I feel strong and fit and revel in the rich, winey smell they offer. I rake them over to the compost pile and dream of the lovely, rich, black leaf mold nature will create for me. It just takes time.

Every aspect of gardening is a dance with time. Planning ahead, stocking up for winter, or planting for spring. Dreaming of the summer past. Strolling the gardens and watching the plants – an orgy of remembrance. Finding an excuse for taking a walk in the bush, or abandoning work entirely and putting the canoe in the water for one last paddle.

We get to live in every moment, every season, all at once. In autumn, summer haunts our gardens, winter threatens, and spring beckons.

Because the sad thing about autumn is that it can’t last long enough. Like life itself.

For the next issue, I’ll try to write the story now living in my imagination, called “How to Walk through the Forest.”

By then, I hope our new greenhouse is up, our plants are ordered, the seeds are sown, and there is a thick, safe blanket of snow over our perennials. In the meantime, Happy gardening. And keep on planting. There’s no reason to stop until the snow flies.