Embrace the Season

I love Autumn! Walking through the woods while crunching and swishing the dry leaves under my feet is such a wonderful sensation. I climb the short hill and get panoramic views of the colorful foliage on both neighboring ranges. Raking leaves, digging up bulbs and putting my garden to rest are satisfying routines that indicate we are fast approaching the dormant season.
In the meantime,  I am still harvesting swiss chard, Brussels sprouts,  kale, collard greens and parsley for dinners. My favorite fall flower, the hardy chrysanthemums,  are done blooming;  but that doesn’t mean I can’t find a bouquet for my table. There are plenty of dried seed pods, grasses, evergreens, berries and succulents to enjoy this time of year. It is still possible to enjoy the season and embrace the colors and textures that we don’t get any other time of year.
Happy Autumn!

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Time for a Change of Season

I look out my window and see a cascade of yellow leaves twirling to the ground. The trees are almost bare. Soon it will be time to rake the leaves into piles and put them in my compost or use them for bedding on my sleeping gardens.        

The raspberries hang on through October, still producing a few succulent berries;

but the brussels sprouts are energized by the colder weather, producing their little bulbs which will be harvested in a few weeks.

My flowers are winding down for the season. I am able to cut a few dahlias, brave enough to bloom but I have to supplement them with more hardy chrysanthemums and sedum.

A lone Morning Glory still tries to greet the day, which gets later and chillier with each passing dawn.           

The Holly is producing brilliant red berries in anticipation of a new season ahead.       

But for the most part, all that is left of my flowers are dried hydrangea heads and puffy seed pods. I leave them standing as a display of textures.

     

I feel compelled to buy a few potted mums for a splash of color on my doorstep, but it is time to prepare for winter.    

I turn over the soil around my pruned stalks and scratch bone meal into the surface where my spring bulbs are planted. I gather fallen leaves and lay them over the flower beds. It is time for them to rest and prepare for their Spring activity. It is time to prepare myself for winter, too.

I swap out the baseball caps for hats and mittens, knowing it won’t be long until it snows.     

I cook a big pot of chili and curl up in front of the fireplace, which has been lit for the first time in months. Like my gardens, we all need to time to rest… at least for this evening.

Fall Traditions: A Trip to the Apple Orchard

It would not be right to let Fall pass without a trip to the local apple orchard. Ever since my kids were little, we would head out on a nice fall day, purchase a bag for our apples and walk through the orchard in search of the best trees.

We always sampled the apples first, because we wanted to know what kind we were getting. Empires, Galas, Macintosh, Cortland, Pink Lady, Yellow Delicious, Granny Smith each has their own distinct flavor. Some are sweet, others are tart; some are better for baking, others keep fresh longer and we can still enjoy them a month later.  We usually found a favorite to load up on, but we always mixed in several other varieties, depending on what was available.

At first, we looked for the trees with lower branches that the kids could easily access and as they got older, they liked the challenge of reaching the top ones with an apple picker- a long pole with a grip on the end. The grip would loosen the apple and release it into the bag hanging from the pole. They enjoyed seeing if they could catch more than one at a time.

Once we had picked our fill, we would head over to the farm house where we could purchase hot apple cider and cider donuts. We would take our snack and sit at a picnic table near the petting farm. When the kids were little, they got a thrill feeding kibble to the sheep and goats. Afterwards, we would head home where I would make applesauce and apple pie with our surplus. There is nothing like a crisp apple you have picked yourself for lunch!

This year our trip was considerably shortened and more focused on the purpose of picking apples. We had time restrictions which did not allow us to wait in the long queue for our cider donuts, and the kids were no longer interested in petting the animals. Regardless, I know the kids felt it was a tradition they wanted to do.  Establishing traditions is an important job of a parent. Traditions create a sense of continuity and calmness in today’s busy and often unpredictable lifestyle. Even though I could not say we wandered aimlessly among the trees since we did have an ultimate goal, we did not have a step by step plan to follow and could randomly choose where to go, depending on how full the trees looked or how the apples tasted. Traditions also are a way of learning about life and it’s lessons.

The kids worked together to choose the trees and sample the flavors (respect). They were also assigned the task of transporting the bag (responsibility). It took both of them to carry it, balancing the weight of the apples between them (cooperation).  They had to deal with the mishap of a handle breaking while the apples poured onto the ground (problem solving). The unexpected happens, we pick up our apples and carry on. It’s what happens in life.

Family traditions give us a chance to step back and think-  this is what is important, this is what really matters. Traditions can be passed on from generation to generation and hold real meaning. My parents took me and my sisters to the apple orchard every year for a similar family bonding activity. I have fond memories of dad lifting me on his shoulders to reach the highest apples or of helping grandma peel the apples to bake in a homemade pie. The memories are so special to me, that now I have passed this seasonal ritual on to my own children. And if we have apple pie as a reward for our efforts, well that isn’t half bad!

Fall is in the Air

Ahh! The crisp feeling on a bright blue morning, I breathe in the dew-filled air. The canopy of trees is starting to show off some bold shades of color: orange,yellow and hints of red. The once full green boughs now gallantly wave their brilliant banners at the cooler, shorter days- perhaps showing that the challenge of survival has only brought out the best in them. I have worked hard in my garden all summer, but now things are winding down. I still have tall, spiny brussels sprouts, massive oblong pumpkins and dazzling shades of swiss chard. Only a few tomatoes remain, as well as the lingering red raspberries- most of which have already been turned into jam.  This is the time of year to sit back and enjoy all that has been accomplished. I also try to reflect on what mistakes I made (planting flowers in the wrong place because I thought they would be shorter) and what I can improve on for next season (adding more late-blooming varieties).

Do you notice how similar the cycle of the plants and trees is to real life? We must all go through times where we look at ourselves and assess what we have accomplished, what we regret or set new goals. Tomorrow is Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday for soul-searching, repentance and starting anew. My family does not observe this strictly, but we often spend the day hiking to the top of a mountain. The challenge of climbing over rocks and fallen sticks, ascending and descending only to have another ridge ahead, gives us time to clear our minds. By the time we reach the summit, we are exhausted. Our reward is the breath-taking views of the colorful valley below. This intense connection with nature helps us to find humility and a fresh perspective on life.

 Like the changing trees, we can adapt to whatever challenges life brings us. We can find a way to bring out the best in ourselves. We can forgive whatever wrongs have been done to us or turn a bad situation into a better one. And we can push ourselves to take just one more step towards our goal, even when it seems impossible. Sure, the trees eventually lose their leaves and go into a dormant stage; but even in the depths of winter, they have buds on their branches, just waiting to be kissed by the warmth of spring. We could learn to be patient and nurture our goals or principles if we took our cues from the trees.