"Can you see that tree with the broken branch? What do you notice?"
"The leaves have wilted and died?"
"Yes! Yes exactly! And what does the mean?"
"Okay. Well look over there to that tree." He pointed to a liquidambar, golden honey-roasted in the late afternoon autumn sun.
"The one that's loosing its leaves?"
"Yes! That's exactly my point!"
This exchange took place years ago between the science boffin dad of a friend and her younger brother. It pops into my mind every year at this time.
I've been avoiding the garden
For the last few weeks I've been alternately avoiding the garden and clearing out the last of the summer crops. The cucumbers came out weeks and weeks ago. Then the tomatoes, melons, basil, peppers and a host of others. Today the runner beans, sticky and sick with aphids made their sorry way to the barrow. Last of all, the jelly melons with their fine fibreglass-sharp fuzzy stems ended up in the compost heap.
All summer long I gluttonously devoured time in the garden. In December it seemed like the verdant, sap drenched growth of that season in the veggie patch could never end. And yet here I am: empty. Melancholy. Nostalgic for golden, weed-infested excess of time that has already passed. A what-shall-we-do-now question mark hovers in my mind's eye.
Why is it that my eyes seem to skip over the cabbages which are already beginning to form tightly packed heads? That my heart doesn't swell with pride over the beetroot and spinach seeds that have germinated and sent up scarlet veined shoots? Why can't I rejoice in the promise of broad beans and sweeter-than-sweet peas in the months to come?
And it dawns on me. Like it's dawned on my every autumn since the garden began. It's not autumn that I dislike. It's the cold. I loathe the too-many-layers feeling of winter clothes and the hunched up feeling of the temperature dropping in the evening. I hate being cold. And I hate autumn because, with its crisp, cool mornings, it reminds me that the frigid chill of winter is on its way.
"It means," I hear a voice quietly interrupt from the past, "that in autumn the trees loose their leaves on purpose. They aren't dying from the cold. They're preparing for spring."
So, for now, I'll drop my summer leaves too and wrap up warm. I'll tend to my beets and carrots and cabbages. I'll make peace with the brisk days of autumn.
But secretly...secretly I'll be dreaming of the sting of sweat and sun block slithering into my eyes. Of my feet slipping, sweatily inside my wellies and of water glasses beaded with condensation. Of weeds that grow with mythical speed. Of shorts and T-shirts and grumbling that I have to get up early to garden before the heat of the day. Secretly, I'll be dreaming of summer.