Fleeting Fall Feelings
Autumn, like springtime and unlike summer and winter, feels to me like a time of constant change, inquiry, and discovery. The slow tidal shift from summer to winter, vibrancy to dormancy, forces me to be observant and to carefully take stock of the world around me. My default mode during this season is questioning, and struggling to stay aware of all the changes happening around me. From the first cool late-summer day, I find myself wondering, is this it? Is it here now? This morning as I drove to work up Highway 19, I noticed that the deciduous trees along the roadside have all turned russet and gold. Did that all happen on my days off? Did I miss a shift in color the last time I drove home? If I could have stood in place and watched the trees all weekend, would I have seen the change take place?
In characteristic fall fashion, we find ourselves harvesting summer squash and winter squash simultaneously. The zucchini plants are finally starting to slow down, producing fewer and fewer eligible fruits for each successive harvest. At the same time, many of the winter squash fruits aren’t quite ready yet. Picking ripe winter squash to fill customer orders can be challenging, and I see this task as a kind of microcosm of the overall experience of autumn. Each variety of winter squash has different “tells” that indicate readiness, but for many varieties, ripeness can be determined by the color of the spot where the squash rests on the ground. Harvesting winter squash, I feel like a detective, trying to guess which fruits are hiding a perfectly-colored spot. To follow up on a hunch, I carefully lift the squash and peek at its underside, trying not to break the brittle stem in the process. Oftentimes I find myself holding a broken-off, underripe squash and feeling very much like anyone else who’s been fooled by the unpredictability of fall, bundled into sweaters in summerlike heat, or freezing and drenched by unexpected rain.
In the hustle and bustle of high-volume harvest days and preparing fields for winter weather, it can be especially easy to lose track of where one is in the season: when did the migrating geese come back? When did the flowers disappear? For all my efforts to pay attention and appreciate the wondrous changes as they take place, autumn is constantly taking me by surprise. That ephemerality, that fleetingness, is what makes the season magical.