Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Summer's End

It’s time for pumpkins, warm apple cider, gathering the garden harvest, and scarecrows in New England. It’s time for me to buck up, stop mourning the easy livin’ of summer, and embrace the next season in Vermont: fall.

I can admit to you I am a girl of summer. I love my freedom from socks and shoes to wear fun, silly flip-flops. The sound of flip-flops flopping is music to my ears! I love 15 hours of sunlight and walking barefoot in the morning dew at 6 a.m., checking the garden’s progress. As I open the garden gate at dawn, you can hear my laying hens in the safety of their coop clucking, “Let us out! Let us out!” The Girls charge the coop door, look up at me for scraps from the garden, and happily waddle off in search of some good, just-bloomed sunflower seed and juicy bugs. In summer the morning sun gives ease to barn chores; no frozen water buckets to crack, no mittens to lose while tossing a flake of hay, no ice in the old barn doorway to swear at and slip on, no flashlights and fumbling in the dark. Oh, Summer — yes, with a capital “S”! Summer is my time to fish, to live, to chase and capture fireflies, watch the stars, wake to a choir of birds. Mother Nature and time march on to break my heart for my first love, Summer.

I have tried to halt Fall from his arrival year after year, ever since I was a little girl. If I could just hold the planets like Popeye in their May through August position, all would be good in my world. But alas, the calendar tells me it is time for the fall equinox this Wednesday, September 22. The September days are getting shorter in sunlight. The temps are dropping to a lower number on my Cabella’s Big Buck thermometer. Soon the geese will be flying over the big meadow, landing in the pond on their journey south (even the geese know fall is time to build up the frequent flyer miles and hit the skies. Vermont is no place to be at the end of fall).

At my age I have learned to embrace that which I cannot change. Hence, I have to admit fall can be a good thing. I have harvested big, pretty pumpkins from my garden! Last year I did not harvest even one pumpkin from the 54 pumpkin seedlings I started in my greenhouse. Summer 2009 was the summer of record rain and early blight in my gardening neck of the woods. This year I have a different pumpkin count: three — count ’em, three — big, fat, roly-poly pumpkins! I want to slap a bumper sticker onto my Pontiac that reads, “Proud parent of three huge pumpkins I grew myself!” I know, it’s silly, for goodness sake. My younger son is an honor student at his middle school, and I have not even given a second thought to pasting one of those tacky “My child is an honor student” on my bumper. That’s a bad thing, right?! Hmmm . . . all those parenting experts are saying my personal pride in my pumpkin-growing accomplishments is more important than my son’s educational accomplishments. Hmmmm. . . .

Okay, I have another pumpkin confession to make. My secret is safe with you, right? I have one lone, last enormous pumpkin still to be cut from the vine and hauled crawling out of the garden fence. I am keeping it on the vine as long as I can, in hopes of a Weight Watchers’ ton weigh-in number on the scale. I have the poor thing captured under an old laundry basket and secured with livestock post. Friends come to visit and say, “Mel, why do you have an upside-down laundry basket outside the garden fencing?” I simply state three words with a scowl: “The damn chickens!” If I could put a black-and-white-striped jail suit on the orange orb, I would. If you keep chickens, I’m sure you are laughing, since you know the antics of chickens. If you are not lucky or foolish enough to raise chickens, you may be asking, why is there a need to imprison a pumpkin?

The last pumpkin on the vine is protected from the chickens
by the laundry basket and livestock posts.

Last year, after my failed pumpkin crop, I broke the bank with the purchase of five pumpkins. On a late Sunday evening, I displayed the orange globes proudly around our farm with scarecrows, gourds, and corn stalks on the front porch, one each side of the picket-fence entrance, others at the barn doors. Our little Red Barn Farm felt festive and rightly decorated for the fall harvest season. Red Barn Farm was the perfect postcard for an “I Love Vermont” visitors’ campaign.

The first day our farm was all decked out for fall, I left our homestead at 7 a.m. and returned at 6 p.m. from work. The farm looked perfectly dressed for the foliage season. I did a quick and proud inventory of my displays. The love-bird scarecrow couple were still holding hands. The cornstalks were still standing tall. The chickens were dancing about the property. The pumpkins were still in place. But . . . wait . . . something . . . was awry. I just couldn’t put my finger on it!

I was welcomed home in the driveway by my favorite hen, Henrietta. Henrietta is like a dog and runs to greet me every time she sees or hears me. Well, this evening Henrietta greeted me with an orange-pulp-covered beak. “Oh, no, Henry, you didn’t! No way, girl?” How could I decorate the farm with pumpkins and forget what chickens do to pumpkins? Yup, she and her flock beak-drilled and carved every single pumpkin with expertise in perfect circles, as if they had used a Martha Stewart pumpkin-carving template. Not only did my pumpkins look as if they had been shotgun targets, they were emptied of seeds. Large circles, medium circles, connected circles drilled to the pumpkin cores were not the work of neighbor teenagers on Cabbage Stock night. The design was not that of a handyman let loose with a new Dremel tool. No, it was the modern art of my dozen chickens. At that moment I just knew in my heart that our entry into the Vermont Tourism Bureau would be eliminated, disqualified.

Pumpkins proudly displayed inside on the mantel.

So I have lived and learned over the past three seasons. This year you see my proudly displayed pumpkins in their place of honor inside our farmhouse, on our fireplace mantel — safe and sound from Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks, and various other egg layers. Chickens are outside; pumpkins are inside. So I guess you could say everything has its place and time. It’s time to celebrate the fall of 2010. I wish you good harvest, apple pie, and a big ole fat pumpkin adorning your front door — minus the chicken carvings!

The Buff Orphington (left) is asking the Barred Plymouth Rock (right) "Where are the pumpkin appetizers this year?"

The pumpkins are safe inside this year.

— Maryellen Mahoney, Special Sales Account Manager


Charlene Michon said...

Very nice! There is something about fall that leaves us longing for summer nights and dreading the coming winter months, I think you have captured that perfectly. Don't forget fall is the perfect time to the corn maze, carve pumpkins and take out frustration on leaf peepers! Nice pictures as well!

Unknown said...

Wonderful! I love the way you write. I feel like I'm a part of your Red Barn farm.