One of my personal fall rituals is lighting the first fire of the season in my trusty Resolute wood stove. For many years I would kindle the season’s first blaze on Sept. 1, but too often it was still too hot or too humid for a good evening smudge. Now I wait till the temperature is officially below 45, and just a few days ago I felt the need to close the windows and strike a match to the pile of kindling that’s been sitting there, waiting, for over a week. Regular readers know that I am not a fan of summer’s heat but there is nothing like the cozy warmth of a wood fire on a cool September evening. This is heat you can watch, adjust and absorb at just the right level; not so hot that it drives you away from the stove and yet bright and lively enough to keep you mesmerized through one, even two, cups of hot tea. It’s the perfect way to end an autumn day.
September is a busy time for Mainers. Aside from work and school there are yard and garden chores to be done, lawn equipment to maintain and prepare for storage, vegetables to process and one last round of rototilling to be done. With little work and no school to contend with I and my fellow retirees have plenty of time to deal with seasonal chores. Rather than spend entire days in voluntary slavery I prefer to spend an hour or two working on a particular project, and then take a break, followed by more projects, more breaks and even a nap before it’s time to light another fire just to get the edge off. Thankfully, my lawn and garden are small enough to require only an hour or so of hard labor to maintain. Also, in tearing down the garden I focus on one group of plants at a time. The cucumbers are long gone and the squash was close behind, followed by the strawberry beds and one last gleaning of remnant blueberries.
I’m down to the last few rows of corn, which I pick and pull in the same sequence. It seems odd that the corn patch, so tall, thick and green just a few days ago, is now thin and spindly. I like to get about four ears per day and cook them straight out of the garden, which makes for some of the most delicious corn-on-the-cob ever.
Soon the tomatoes will have run their course and, by Thanksgiving, the rutabagas will be heavy enough to pull and store for the winter. By then the garden chores will be finished, the tools all cleaned and hanging in the shed and nothing left to do but rake leaves; as good a Sunday project as any.
I dare say I am one of the last of the rakers when it comes to leaf removal. These days all of my neighbors have purchased blowers that toss the leaves hither and yon in a cascade of yellow, orange, red and brown that is a pleasure to watch even though, to me, it seems to be much less efficient than raking. I have watched my neighbors run back and forth across their yards, blowing leaves with every step, but it seems as though most of the leaves blow to the left, right or behind them, requiring another pass, another pass and another. Meanwhile, the blower sounds louder and more deafening than the average lawn mower, and I’m not a fan of machinery, either. Give me the rhythm of the rake any time!
I rake in rows rather than piles. I move only as many leaves as I can reach, about six feet at a time, creating long windrows of leaves that I later pick up using a 24-foot tarp. I rake the leaves onto the tarp and drag them across the yard (downwind) into the woods, where they remain while they disintegrate over the winter. On a good, dry day I can clear the yard of leaves in about two hours, which is a reasonable length of time for such projects. I don’t bother raking leaves when they are wet and I know that the neighbors do the same. Leaves are best handled dry on a windless day – it doesn’t take long to learn the rules of this game!
My goal, of course, is to get all these pre-winter jobs done so I can spend my time from now through December in the woods where I belong. It’s already bear, deer and goose hunting season, and in a few weeks the law will come off of small game and upland birds. There will be too much to do in the woods for me to be wasting time on yard work, so I fill these early September days with these necessary pursuits. When all the chores are completed and the wood shed is full I feel as though I am vindicated and can head for the hinterlands with no feelings of remorse, guilt or neglected responsibility. I have been drawn outdoors in fall since the 1960s – there’s no point in changing my ways now. I have learned, however, that it’s better to get the tough jobs out of the way beforehand rather than try to catch up once cold weather comes and the snow begins to fly. Splitting and piling wet, frozen firewood in December is not the most enjoyable of jobs, nor is clearing frozen leaves from the gutters.
September is the ideal time for such endeavors. I must admit that it is invigorating and satisfying to spend a cool autumn day getting things done, especially knowing that the mower, rakes, hoes and shovels can be put away once and for all till spring. There should be time enough left over to enjoy a freshly-picked Cortland, Macoun or Fuji apple, sip some hot cider and marvel at the colorful foliage and bright blue September sky.
We Mainers are fortunate to have such a variety of seasonal experiences to enjoy – take time to make the most of every moment this month!