On Winding Down

There is an ache which accompanies the days of late summer.

The perennials, having lived their brief moment of glory, lie spent and sheared to ankle height. The sugar maples and aspens, though still largely green, begin to betray their autumnal undergarments; it won’t be long before they disrobe completely. Yellow clouds of goldenrod hum quietly as the most industrious of autumn’s honeybees scramble for a sip of September’s ambrosial dregs. The wind itself has changed too and one almost notes a feeling of resignation in the air.

By these and other premonitions, we grow certain of Saturn’s doleful gaze and are forced to an uneasy paradox. On the one hand, the dread of frigid mornings and the reluctant engines that accompany them; on the other, fond memories of mulled cider, glass covered ponds and the stark beauty of dusky light through bony branches.

We learned in our youth that every good story must contain a crisis; for gardeners, this crisis lasts about six months. The shrubs, the plants, the lawn, and anything that ever lived becomes flattened under an inescapable white apocalypse. Nothing breathes, nothing moves, and, on very cold days, one can even hear the *snap* of what I assume are the clenched tendons of an overhead maple. The only hint of life comes from the desperate fingertips of a Russian Sage, reaching out helplessly like a buried skier. Not having access to a St. Bernard, I pat the few exposed branches gingerly with a wet mitten; “Help is on the way,” I lie.

In those months however, a quiet momentum is building. Sometime in late March, the turning point comes and the moment of eucatastrophe is suddenly upon us. The weakness is discovered, the kiss is administered, the curse is broken and, all at once, we feel that everything is going to be all right. As the ice queen turns tail and flees, we see her gentle sister step softly from the the snow-laden boughs and, with a wave of her wand, banish all frozen memories forever.

Well, at least until the following November.

For now, we hastily gather the remaining green tomatoes, promising ourselves we’ll get to that green salsa this year (does anyone even eat green salsa?) We turn over the beds and ensure the crumbly sheets are firmly tucked in. I’ve heard one can prove his bed-making metal by tossing a quarter onto the finished sheets; sufficiently snug, the quarter should bounce.

But how do I know if the bulbs and tubers prefer a tightly made bed? Perhaps, like me, the intolerable closeness of flannel horizons possesses them with the urge to scream and kick out? Perhaps, immobilized beneath layers of frozen earth, they become paralyzed by claustrophobic dread and, when they do eventually emerge, will never again be the same specimens I buried. Perhaps, as with most other things, I am over-thinking matters.

As I stand surveying the rusty auburn’s of sunflowers and mum’s, I feel as if I am witnessing the final act of a play. I ask myself: Would it have been better to have left well enough alone? To have never loved, rather than to have loved and lost? Should I have satisfied myself with an abundance of prosaic lawn flotsam – a well that leads nowhere, the quaint but no-less horrible bent-over plywood lady with exposed bloomers, the benevolent but petrified Saint Francis?

Perhaps, long after the curtain call, we find the answer lingering in the air. It hangs, sparkling like a diamond against the black velvet curtains; a single thread which, when woven in, enhances the timbre of the entire tapestry. After months of monochromatic purgatory, we find the emeralds glow warmer, the earth smells sweeter, and the rose bush burns brighter.

It is a book we have already read and yet never tire of; a conversation we’ve already had and yet, in its predictability, find a kind of peculiar comfort.

And so as this part of the story comes to a close, I shut my eyes to imagine what comes next. For those who linger year-round under Jove’s warming influence, these thoughts may seem nothing more than a cold northern myth – but for us who live it, it remains a beautiful tragedy.

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