Every gardener knows it, the special sadness that lurks in every season. It starts out small, so tiny you can easily discount it: no, it couldn’t be, I didn’t really feel that, that’s just crazy! But while you’re busy thinning out the seedlings, or hardening them off, or turning compost into beds with the new fork that fits your hand so perfectly, it’s there—waiting for you to look up, turn your head, let down your guard the slightest little sliver. That moment may not come for weeks, but one day you’ll be in the garden, in mid-summer, say–overwhelmed by squash and wishing it would just stop–when suddenly you’ll feel the wave wash and toss you like a bit of sea glass. Soon enough, you will know in that instant, and not be able to deny, it will stop, and the bounty you’re enjoying will be one more shade adrift in memory’s vast hall.
That end, the familiar turn of seasons so rooted in us all, is certainly no mystery. We know it’s coming, it’s natural and inevitable, part of life’s cycles and all that. All things, and all seasons, must indeed pass. The knowing isn’t what hurts, though–it’s the feeling, and the letting go. The trick is to hold back the wave as long as you can, in whatever way you can.
In late summer and early fall, that’s usually simple enough–there’s just too much doing to fret about the coming winter. Canning, drying, freezing, saucing, and pickling can fill a weekend faster than a wish, a thought, or a whisper. A long string of weekends can vanish into water baths, brine crocks, and slow cookers before you look up and realize it’s practically the holidays…again. And in any season, there are seeds to contemplate for the next: those tantalizing names and photos in the catalogues, with descriptions that lure and entice you, the eyes that are always bigger than your garden beds.
Once the seeds arrive, there’s lots more to keep you occupied–readying the flats and warming trays, nestling each seed in its new home, tending the trays like a broody hen till the tender shoots are up and sparkling. Not long after, it’s time for thinning, then repotting up a size or two, and before long they’re ready to be snugged into the soil you’ve prepared so carefully. This takes a lot of planning, and serves as a natural transition between seasons when done skillfully.
This year, though, I have no soft landing on the other side of summer. I’ve been traveling much more than usual, and perforce have found myself with less time for the garden–and for the succession plan that ushers fall out one door while winter steals in through the other. This isn’t a bad thing–quite the contrary–but it’s a definite departure (more on that as the time seems right), and sharpens the sadness I feel as the redwoods coat my deck with brittle castoffs and the days grow noticeably shorter. The air is crisp now, no longer languid with the lazy bliss of August or September, and the zucchini have indeed stopped: I ripped the vines out this very afternoon, after filling one final basket with bright, small jewels. As is their due, I will savor them, perhaps stir-fried with hot and sweet peppers, garlic, lemongrass, and Thai basil from the garden, and raise a glass to summer. The new season will find me hopeful, looking forward to the new life and challenges it will surely bring.