This time of year we live in the gallery—every turn shows nature lavishing on us its ironic exuberance, made all the more poignant because we know winter will soon slowly unpaint the scene. Shakespeare’s observation on this brilliant decline– “This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong, to love that well which thou must leave ere long” comes to mind, as does Hopkins’ “Million-fuelled, nature’s bonfire burns on.” And it is glorious, there’s no question. We stop in our tracks at the sight of big leaf maples bursting into gold. Miraculously, this all comes back to us year after year—or will, if we take care of the canvas. . . .
Out my window I see a catalpa (native, but not to here) metasequoia (another exotic, and ancient), ginko (practically a living fossil, lonely among these newer upstarts) and dove tree (Davidia. . . ditto on the exotic) stretch the spectrum from yellow to crimson, and flame for weeks. But what we mostly have around our place are garrayanna oaks, which seem almost mute in comparison. Underachievers in the foliage pageant despite their girth and crown. But it isn’t a beauty contest, or shouldn’t be—trees emerge from their particular environments not to enrich our aesthetic but in answer to a more fundamental calculus. Those garrayanna support colonies of acorn woodpeckers, flickers and brown creepers. By comparison, the ginko is yard-bling, not even singing for its supper.
Getting back to Shakespeare—we have just one spring, one fall to the seasons of our lives (sorry for the spoiler here), but nature soldiers on. So with each year we tend to look a little longer at these turnings, a little more closely, more appreciatively. If spring around here is a lesson in greens—the pale young leaves slowly overtaking the moss and lichens on the oaks, the dark firs providing a basso continuo to the melody of new fescue and orchardgrass—fall is a study in scarlet and gold.
Walk through the farmer’s market in late October—it’s nothing but scarlets and golds, an edible fall landscape. Take delicata squash. It’s been around a long time, and may have graced the tables of the pilgrims or at least subsequent generations, once they made the trek further west: vibrant, hearty, and redolent of what the good earth produces. (Apparently you can even wear them—check out at the 16th century painting by Giambattista Moroni (c. 1565) Portrait of a Widower and His Two Daughters—surely the younger daughter is wearing a delicata squash skirt. And her knowing smile suggests she’s just had one for supper—baked, with a pat of butter in the center—bought at the Saturday market from Gathering Together Farms). Unlike the rest of the rapidly fading fall pageant, delicata keep long after we’ve set the clocks back, loaded the woodbox, and settled in for the rains. They turn your plate into a September sunset, reminding you of where we’ve just been, asking “Are we not blessed indeed?”