This morning when I stepped out early, the grass was crispy with frost. I could see the squirrel’s nest in the tree down the driveway. A single crow perched at the top of the dying tree that threatens our car. My eyes find squirrels in the trees, movement more than color or shape in the skeletons of the stripped down trees.
It’s a month of paring back. Simplifying. Stripping down.
Apparently I’ve stripped away words. While one of my friends tries to write a novel for NaNoWriMo and another blogs daily for NaBloPoMo, I’ve been absent here, writing less, not more.
It’s not that I haven’t been writing. I’ve finished an essay and, just this morning, an article. Both have been lingering in half-forgotten folders on my computer and dusty corners of my mind. But in the mornings when I’m up, I find myself just sitting. I crave stillness and quiet. I wrap my hands around a mug of ginger tea for warmth. I slowly breath in the steam rising from the cup. It is the closest I come to meditation.
I find myself standing outside feeling the sun on my back, watching the clouds scuttle across the sky or peering down at the bees crawling all over the pale pink mums with their yellowed centers, still working. Like the squirrels in the trees, it’s the motion first that catches my eye. And I watch.
There are leaves to get up, wood to move, flower pots to tuck away in the barn. There are stories to tell, words to get out, but right now, I’ve pared back. I get still. I watch. Getting quiet, noticing. This is my work too.
The words will come back, like the leaves, but right now is a time to find out how much there is to see when everything is stripped down.
“What happened?” my big girl asked from the seat behind me, her question mirroring my own momentary confusion.
“Somebody hit us,” I said stunned.
She was OK. I was OK, but shaken, badly. All week, I was tight and anxious. All week, my stomach has churned as I called the insurance company, filled out forms, waited for call backs, avoided thinking about what could have been.
All week, still off-kilter, I needed grounding, so I stepped outside. I welcomed the golden afternoon autumn sun, warm on my back. I breathed deep the cold smell of fall. While my kids jumped in piles of yellow and browning leaves, I pulled plants soft and straggling after our frost. I loosened the cold earth and dumped wheelbarrows of compost. And I planted garlic.
Garlic was the most satisfying thing I grew in my garden this year. I don’t know why I haven’t grown it before. I loved every step from the early green points poking out of the earth to the graceful curved scapes that I cut off for pesto to the bulbs themselves that I dug a few months ago and hung to dry.
I love this starting point too. It’s time to plant garlic again, now when everything else is wrapping up or just hanging on. Now while I’m pulling dead plants and putting the garden to bed for spring. I love the hope of planting, even if it means a long wait. All winter, I’ll know that my garlic is out there under the soil, under the snow, waiting for spring sun, ready to push up shoots and get going.
Garlic didn’t ask a lot of me. I picked the scapes and dug the bulbs. I ate the scapes quickly, and the bulbs will stick around for a while (though we go through garlic pretty quickly around here).
Garlic was simple in the garden and it’s simple in the kitchen. I’ve been making this easy garlic bread for more than 20 years now, since I first learned it in an Italian kitchen.
1 loaf good, firm bread
1–2 cloves garlic peeled and halved
kosher or sea salt
- Slice the bread and toast it under the broiler just until it starts to take on a little color. Flip the bread and toast the other side.
- Arrange the toast on a platter, and while it is still warm, rub one side of each slice with the garlic.
- Drizzle with olive oil.
- Sprinkle with salt.
One of my favorite fall dinners is this garlic bread served with greens (sauteed with more garlic) and white beans. Some nights I’ll add sausage (my favorite is garlic and cheese—yep, more garlic—from our local market) or mushrooms. Some nights I just keep it at beans, greens, and bread. Simple. Quick. Satisfying.
Last weekend we had a killing frost. In the Saturday morning chill while my big girl got ready for soccer, I trotted up to the garden. I filled a plastic grocery bag with jewel-toned chard, crimson and gold threading through deep green leaves. I picked a quart of green beans, a handful of jalapenos and miniature bell peppers. I left the carrots and the beets in the ground; they’d be fine. I considered the basil, but it was looking anemic.
Just before I got in the car to head out for the weekend, I cut flowers—bright red dahlias and zinnias—orange-red, pale to deep pink, more red—and filled an old canning jar. There will be mums still and asters, but it’s my last cutting of these brilliant hues.
It’s a time of endings in the garden. Wrapping up.
And yet, cilantro is sprouting all over. Johnny-jump-ups raise their little smiles. And garlic is ready to go into the ground, with hopes for the spring.
While I worked on clearing the limp, blackened plants from the garden, my girls raked the yellow leaves that blanketed the yard, hoping for a huge pile to jump in. The wood piles grow. Dinner is less about grilling and salad than something that can go in the oven—shepherd’s pie, pork and apple pie—or simmer for hours on the stove—pea soup, squash soup.
It’s a time of endings, but it’s a beginning of this next season too. Snow flew briefly on Sunday. The girls ran out to greet it. I didn’t welcome it, not yet. This season on golden and crimson leaves will end soon enough, shifting to the brown of oaks. Even the cilantro and parsley and mums, holding out for now, will succumb to the cold. And then I’ll welcome the snow (though maybe not too much of it?). Then I’ll shift from cider to cocoa.
But for now, I’m cleaning up from the summer I’ve already said good-bye to. I’m embracing the smell of chilly mornings and wood smoke, and rotting leaves. I’m soaking up the sun and watching the busy bees, knowing I have much to do too, but feeling lazy.
Last night I sautéed some of that chard with mushrooms and my own garlic. I added white beans and grilled eggplant and bright roasted squash. I toasted bread and rubbed it with more of my garlic, sprinkled it lightly with salt, drizzled thickly with olive oil. Bright colors, rich and earthy flavors. The last of my garden bounty becomes one of my favorite fall meals. An end, a beginning.
What’s wrapping up for you right now? What’s beginning? Write about a time of transition whether it’s seasonal or something shifting in your own life?
I loved this day with it’s golden glow, a last breath of summer wearing the colors of fall.
I loved this day with a pile of weeds culled and branches clipped as I slowly get ready to put the garden to rest for the year. I loved this day with cilantro from that garden even as everything else is winding down. I loved this day as I wondered when to plant my garlic. Is it time?
I loved this day with a fairy princess biking to pick apples, coming back with a bag of them in her bike basket. I loved this day of my girls whirling-spinning-climbing-sliding-flipping on the playground as I wrote two letters in the warm sun. I loved this day even as the chill of late afternoon crept in with a reminder that it is fall despite the glory it offered.
I loved this day with dinner offered, no need to cook.
I loved this day as I turned apples into sauce, cutting, simmering, watching white slices and red skin turn into a tawny rose puddle that pulsed and breathed as it came to a boil. I loved this day savoring warm apple sauce sprinkled thickly with crisp granola. I loved this day listening to the canning pot bubble and clatter for one of the last times this year.
I loved this day in this season I love. I loved this day with the ones I love. I loved this day doing the things I love.
I loved this day.
What ever you love, let’s write together. Write What You Love Starts tomorrow. You can still sign up here. (It’s free!)
Right now I’m loving
- bursts of color, not in the leaves where I expect it this time of year, but in my garden where the zinnias and dahlias, cosmos and mums are peaking
- bringing bits of that color inside on my desk, the windowsill by the kitchen sink, the top of the bookcase
- noticing the spreading color in the trees, a little more each morning, when I step outside first thing while the coffee pot drip-hiss-sputters inside
- coming in from the cool morning to that hot coffee
- using the garlic that I grew and waiting for the delivery of my seed for next year
- the warmth and comfort of my bed as I anticipate sleeping outside on the hard ground for a couple of days
- anticipating an adventure, the kind we haven’t had in a long, long time
- this post by Jess Ryan that helps me remember why I love this kind of adventure (I’ll consider the metaphors later)
- getting bags (and bags and bags) of clothes ready to hand-down or donate
- knowing the new Louise Penny book is ready for me at the library—even if I can’t get it just yet
- writing letters again
- time away from the computer
What are you loving right now?
Tell me something now—and write about it next week with Write What You Love. It’s free and you can sign up here.