Faded now, but traceries in the garden awaken memories.
October is that cusp of December reluctant to take leave of August.
October is enjoying, and waiting, and leftovers, and firsts and lasts, and looking back, and looking ahead, and knowing which way the wind is blowing.
October is energy after the dog days of August.
Still, no need to rush to put the garden in order or snug up tender plants
August sun is squinty. October sun is golden and casts sharp shadows.
November skies are lumpy and gray. December sunsets wash pale and luminous.
August sounds hang on humidity, distant: lawn mowers and swimming pool laughter, katydids.
October sounds travel sharp on clear air: rat-a-tat roof repair, clackety skateboards, crickets, chainsaws.
First snowfall in December is hushed, leaves quiet crystals.
In October you exchange shorts and teeshirts for long pants and long sleeves.
For gardeners it’s frissons of shoulda-coulda-woulda banished instantly by fervent promises:
Even if August is hot, I’ll cut back and tidy up. . .
I’ll document, I’ll coddle, I’ll weed and water. . .
I won’t be seduced by siren plants. . .
I won’t cram. . .
I’ll use common sense. . .
I’ll remember all these resolutions.
But not now. Now I’ll just wait. . .
Wait for those tight, stubborn, shiny chrysanthemum buds to fling wide and splash color. . .
Wait for pineapple sage to open its drooping red spikes so fluttering sulfurs can take a last sip.
(The brush of their leaves against my nose is heaven-scent.)
Wait for the fringe tree to spin gold and the Japanese maple to flame red. . .
Wait to cut away sprawlers-in-bloom,
And seedheads from Joepyeweed, sunflowers, and ironweed, leftovers for late foragers.
And they are here.
Storms have walloped sipping bugs this year, but now they are back, hustling blossoms like pickpockets in a crowd.
Yes, I will wait until November or December to cut away.
But in December I will see deep into thinned woods on sunny days and spy on amber leaves rustling skirts in the last fancy dress ball of the year before cold gusts catch them and whip them into oblivion.
For now I will simply enjoy. . .
Enjoy the last energetic flush of roses before the first frost, and, surprise, a tardy, rogue, jackmanni clematis blossom
Enjoy the last plumbago blooms, or maybe there will be a few more if December is kind
Enjoy the last monarchs, the last swallowtails, the last bumblebees working the last of the basil and agastache
Enjoy the smell after the last mowing, and the last, late fling of abelias.
Enjoy the sparkle of tall grasses in late afternoon sunshine.
Smile at ruffles of starry white asters I once invited in from the roadside. Now they take for granted my hospitality.
Admire Maximillian sunflowers ruling the heights and seducing hungry insects, while bright red naked ladies steal the show. (It’s a southern garden thing, but not Baptist.)
And then wonder how I will rout the yellow ruffians next spring.
Oh yes, mushrooms, too, the razzle-dazzle of recyclers. They are everywhere this year, loving our damp weather, secretly turning trash into good earth.
Is it the rabbits or squirrels that nibble them?
In all good conscience I should tackle some chores.
Too much rain this year. Plants don’t understand Savings Accounts.
So they squander their currency in rampancy.
The profligacy must be collected, tamed, chastened. That’s what gardeners do.
Pruners and rakes and barrows come out, for a while.
There is graffiti from storms. In droughty years there is little graffiti.
This year, storms dropped limbs branches twigs, limbs,branches twigs, and twigs and twigs and twigs. . .
They clutter paths and trip me, they crash like missiles into beds. . .
Dry leaves lay about on plants like dirty dishrags and brown pine needles catch on branches like broom straw. . .
Pine cones crunch under feet and sweet gum satellites roll off the rake like stray marbles.
Somebody burns graffiti and smoke drifts, pleasant until you realize later, indoors, that it has joined you, part and parcel.
Afternoons are quiet now, no fledgling chatter or solo tenors, though starlings can make a ruckus in the trees, nattery, gossipy, until, at signal they’re off.
Why don’t they polish off our luscious purple beautyberries? Ripe now, but losing their lustre.
Yet gardeners along the coastal flyway complain about gluttonous (or hungry) migrants gobbling their berries the instant they ripen. There’s never a happy distribution of abundance.
Exactly whose berries are they?
Holly berries will stay fresh and bright, though. Reserves for late winter
Squirrels and birds do routine checks on crabapple and hawthorne berries.
Nobody checks the chokecherries.
The mockingbird has long since devoured the elderberries he guarded with gusto.
Fruit flies invade in October, take leave in November.
A million tiny blooms of tea olive scent an offhand breeze, awaken faint memories of Pond’s cold cream we used so many years ago, in our twenties, when we didn’t need to, fade to dusky yellow, then litter the porch in dusty brown piles.
Later, holly tea olive cousins will continue this lovely fall tradition.
Ginger lilies, too, flavor breezes, heirloom sweet like wilted corsages cast off after prom night.
The first camellia blossom. Happy surprise! Did we not expect it? This one pure white with yellow stamens that bees forage. Fresh, delicate, simple. When spent, the petals of these sasanqua camellias drop singly, cover the ground in ripples of color. Their blooms are Melanies next to the Scarletts that spring will bring.
Time to look forward. I search for plump, healthy buds, signs of contented plants, promises of new color for new seasons.
They are there, as promised: camellias, azaleas, hydrangeas, viburnum, and glorious spring forsythia, tucked into sheaths against freezes. They shore up a gardener’s implicit faith.
Everywhere cotton grows the air smells rank and sweet. Airborne herbicide has browned the plants and bolls show bushy-tailed, waiting to be plucked. Snowy fields pocked with dark stalks bake in sunshine,
While puffy misty seed heads on wild thickets of groundselbush evoke fallen clouds.
I miss soybean fields turning yellow. Nowadays they turn brown like the cotton fields.
In December the same fields will be shorn and flat, punctuated by round, dark brown bales of shaven castaways.
At night the hard white light of a full moon spreads out and lights the land better than a flashlight in my hand. It slips through our windows and filigrees the floor and prisms the dew that streams down the skylight and soaks the grass like rain. Leaves glitter from the gift in morning sunlight
You don’t have to water plants much anymore.
The last spiders catch me in great webs they’ve traced at night.
A great big muddy-orange pumpkin streaked gray rises above the fields while the evening is still blue.
Linus, do you see it?
UFOs land on cotton fields at night, intense lights on octopus arms casting black shadows.
By daylight they are gone, leaving trussed-up cotton inked with big numbers like 2378 in open trailers.
Ichabod Crane mists curl above ponds and meadows and swirl in folds across the road beneath starry skies, dance before you like shimmery ha’nts.
Witches fly in October, or is it spent plants and dry leaves sighing in the wind?
Time enough to banish them in December.
And wait for spring.