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I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion. 

Henry David Thoreau

I am not sure that I would actually sit on a pumpkin, but, Tom and I did recently rest upon a log at the Morton Arboretum’s Glass Pumpkin Patch on a rather blustery autumnal afternoon. The glass pumpkins were quite intricate and lovely and the log was actually comfortable so we did not feel at all like bumps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cinderella did hitch a ride in a mouse drawn coach fashioned from a pumpkin and Peter, that infamous pumpkin eater, notoriously put his wife in a pumpkin shell. Despite tales told long ago, I truly doubt that he kept her there very well! Pumpkin pie would have been a much better choice for Peter’s pumpkin and much more pleasant for his ill-kept wife. Such are the ways of nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

Hereabouts, pumpkin patches in produce stands are much diminished as we near the end of October. The days grow shorter and the shadows longer as the nights close in and we edge toward the first true frost of the season.

I find myself leafing through cookbooks and magazines looking for new recipes and reviving tried and true favorites at this time of year. Jack-o-Lantern Tea Loaves (pumpkin bread) and potato soup, hearty stews and warm, crusty bread nourish our bodies in the flickering glow of candlelight. Russet and amber hues replace the sun filled rooms and bright colors of summer as warm jackets appear and socks and sturdier shoes replace summer’s sandals.

Walden Pond

When I happened across Thoreau’s quote it reminded as much of the Glass Pumpkin Patch as it did of a long-ago visit to Walden’s Pond. On a crisp and sunny October day, Tom and I sat on Walden’s shore eating a simple picnic lunch as we watched rowers and swimmers glide across the pond. A scattering of writers and artists and others worked at their crafts as we wandered a well-worn path to the site of Thoreau’s cabin. There, I imagined, as I do now, the short but notable life of a man whose words continue to inspire in this still new and quite troubled century. It is not such a bad thing to be content with the simpler things in life rather than the crowded velvet cushions. I think I’ll pick up my current read, have a cup of tea sweetened with local honey and settle in for the night here along the Cutoff.

 

 

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How fortunate I was to have had these trusty engines stowed safely behind the driver’s seat. They kept me company and pushed me forward as I chug, chug, chugged along on my long ride home past farmland and forests, mists and moisture, sunshine and shadows in the peaks and valleys of landscape. At times it felt as if I had been dropped into a bowl of candy corn, the panorama of fall colors following me with views I never tire of.

While our Up North family has graciously travelled down several times in the past year, I have not had the opportunity to visit them until recently. Packed with pumpkin muffins and assorted granny goodies, I was anxious for a few precious days. I wasn’t disappointed.

One fine day, we spent a delightful afternoon on an island.

Nicolette Island is located on the Mississippi River which flows through Minneapolis. The island houses restored Victorian dwellings, De Lasalle High School, the Nicolette Island Park, an impressive pavilion, the Bell of Two Friends, the Nicolette Island Inn, and winding paths that afford amazing scenery and opportunities for young ones to explore, pretend, and appreciate nature. Our daughter and son-in-law, Katy and Tom, have instilled a healthy appreciation and respect for nature in their children and are to be commended for their efforts and example.

 

As we approached the Bell of Two Friends, we giggled a bit as the backside looked a bit like, well, like a backside. Once we went under and around the sculpture we were amazed at this stunning monument of peace.

Fall had come to Nicolette Island on what was a crisp, overcast day, displaying colorful splendor on this lovely island.

 

 

We walked and wandered, St. Anthony Falls and industry sharing the space, before crossing back into downtown Minneapolis and Penny’s Cafe.

 


The chef made our crepes on a large, heated wheel, across from the table we chose to sit. We all watched in awe as he balanced the orders, spreading crepe batter on the wheel, filling and folding, making sandwiches and other delectables on another slab to his right.

I chose a crepe fromage, which exceeded expectations! It was outstanding. Ezra, who chose what the woman who took our orders described as special, wholeheartedly agreed, saying it was special, as he energetically tackled his grilled cheese sandwich. Kezzie’s little stuffed fawn, stuffed in his special way, snuggled for warmth next to Katy’s coffee as we all enjoyed the food and the ambiance of Penny’s Cafe.

What a balm for the soul this little adventure was, with an attentive and caring mommy, two darling, inquisitive grandkids, nature and even nourishment in an establishment bearing my name. There were so many other moments of joy during my brief  trip; too many to mention in an already long post. I was grateful for my time with our Up North family and appreciate Ezra’s sharing of his engines as I wended my way home.

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October 10

Now constantly there is the sound,
quieter than rain,
of the leaves falling.

Under their loosening bright
gold, the sycamore limbs
bleach whiter.

Now the only flowers
are beeweed and aster, spray
of their white and lavender
over the brown leaves.

The calling of a crow sounds
Loud — landmark — now
that the life of summer falls
silent, and the nights grow.

From  New Collected Poems by Wendell Berry

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It sounded like a raindrop.

Plop.

The rusty colored grasses and spent blooms danced in the sun-dried breeze.

Plop.

The cloudless sky’s likeness reflected on the water of the expansive slough which had receded considerably from its banks during the long dry spell.

Plop.

The distinctive smell of rain, petrichor, was non-existent; the earth dry as a bone. We needed rain.

Plop.

 Then there it was,  the gentle folding of a stem, a leaf, a flower gone to seed.

Plop.

It was the weight of grasshoppers landing on the leaves and stems and faded flower past their prime that were making the sound; a prelude to Autumn’s splendor.

I sat on a bench for a bit, listening to this primal sound of nature. I never heard it before – or had I forgotten what I heard? I remembered catching grasshoppers as a child, wondering if it was really tar that grasshoppers ejected, but, not this sound. The simple pleasure of discovery on an October afternoon.

As I rested on the bench, I continued to hear the plop, plop, plop of grasshoppers. I thought of the plague of grasshoppers that wiped out all of Pa’s wheat in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, “By the Shores of Plum Creek”.  The grasshoppers, which were actually Rocky Mountain locusts, first appeared as a black cloud on the horizon. They dropped down and decimated the Ingalls’ crops and neighbors’ crops, destroying all of that year’s wheat harvest. Then, they laid eggs which meant more grasshoppers the next spring. They destroyed the following year’s crops. To make matters worse, the grasshoppers flew into the little house, down the chimney, through cracks in the chinking, covering the floor, clothing, everything. A natural disaster, for certain, and one I would not want to experience.

I arose and continued on my walk. Yellow finch flitted past, here and there with their distinctive, dipping flight pattern, darts of golden energy. Bees hummed on their nectar finding missions and a flock of geese came in for a landing, honking like harried cab drivers in the Loop. Geese never arrive unannounced, unlike the great blue heron that swooped in without a sound and landed on the reedy shore.

My walk ended, but not my amazement as I noticed that the maples were starting to turn color. I held the hope in my heart that we just might have a colorful fall after all.

Plop!

 

 

 

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I

have been

chasing sunsets.

Ever since August’s solar eclipse, which cast its spell on random groups of strangers, I have been wandering off our little acreage just before to sunset to bid farewell to the day.

While we reside in a semi-rural area nestled underneath a generous canopy of trees, the windy city’s skyscrapers loom to the east and suburban development rises to the west. We are not in the best of spots for capturing the rising or setting sun.

So it was the other day, with nary a ray of sunshine shining upon on our little prairie, that the Antler Man encouraged me to head down the road in search of the sunset. He reminded me of the many times we’ve driven up the hill only to be blinded by the setting sun as we reached the apex.

Thus encouraged and energized, off I went and sure enough, I was startled by sunlight before making my way around the bend in the road.

I headed over to an unlikely spot on a well-traveled road that the locals frequent. My cell phone app conveniently told me the hour and minute the sun would set, giving me an ETA with ten or fifteen minutes to spare.

There were several cars already parked in the narrow wayside at the Saganashkee Slough. A few fishermen set their lines over the rail while two teenaged girls were having fun with what appeared to be carpool karaoke. I could see them mouthing words, gesticulating and bouncing to music, which I could barely hear (thank goodness) as they politely closed the car’s windows. A serious photographer had what looked like an intricate camera perched on a tripod and other sunset-seekers were sitting on portable directors’ chairs while a few children did what children do – they ran around laughing and shouting and bickering and hugging.

Two boys, around the ages of eight and ten, darted to and fro, stopping to ask “Papa, did you start it?”. “Yes” said Papa, patiently, while another child, a girl, a few years older than the oldest boy read a book in a nearby chair.

I found a spot along the rail, looking toward the descending sun, then turned my back while I engaged my cell phone’s camera.

“Did you set your camera to time-lapse?” a younger voice asked me.

Well, no, I had not, and told the older boy I was just taking photos. He thought I needed to do a time-lapse. I had a few minutes, Papa indicated it was okay, and I was given a mini-lesson in time-lapse photography by a ten year old boy!

I looked across the slough, really a big lake, and told my two new friends that it was time.

“Papa, are you ready?”  He was and I said “There goes the sun. Let’s start counting down from 3, 2, 1!” The sun disappeared as we exclaimed our collective delight. The children’s father thanked me for being nice to his sons and I thanked them all for showing me how to work my camera in a new way. Cars were started, the karaoke kids stopped performing, fishing poles and tripods were dismantled and another day was done.

As I opened the door to my car, the older boy ran up to me and asked if I would come back another time. I told him I would and that I hoped we could all watch another sunset.

There have been other sunsets to chase since then, and there will be more in days to come, but this one sunset gave me a just a few extra rays of hope in this troubled and turbulent world we live it.

 

 

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Oh, September grass is the sweetest kind, it goes down easy like apple wine.
Hope you don’t mind if I pour you some, made that much sweeter by the winter to come. – James Taylor

 

There is an aged apple tree: near death if-truth-be-told. It stands, barely, far back on this equally aged property we call home. The tree has a newly splintered limb as well as a hallowed-hidey-hole demeanor. It is related to an apple tree that straddles the neighbors’ property and ours along a grassy peninsula of ferns and creeping Charlie.

We take turns looking at the drive-by apple tree and contemplate its condition in times of neighborly chats, musing over its gnarly stature, remarking over the observance that we can now see through the trunk and hoping that it doesn’t topple in the next big storm. That the apple tree still bears fruit is remarkable.

The deer wander down our respective driveways, munching on the windfall apples or tugging on the branches, stripping them of fruit. Oddly enough, there are still plenty of apples that one side will bake a pie with, the other applesauce.

The wasps arrive, come September, attracted to the apples’ juices – road cider pressed from the weight of our cars. The scent is noticeable now, not only along the drive, but also in the grassy plot of sunshine and fallen oak leaves further back. What the deer don’t eat the riding mower will devour. We will, however, manage to claim some apples for ourselves. They are easy enough to harvest in the grass and a long pole with a basket grabs the hanging fruit, plucking them from the  tree branches.

As the long slant of the warm September sun casts her golden glow upon the apple trees, I feel gratitude for the earthly stewards who planted them so many years ago, for these apple trees provide shelter to birds, squirrels, butterflies – and they host a vociferous chorus of tree frogs that serenade us well into these soft September nights. The shade us from the sun in summer and they add to the winter landscape when the snowfalls arrive.

Do you have any fruit trees or pick fruit yourself at orchards? Do you cook/bake with apples?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eclipse Day

 I had a meeting to attend, which was held in a local library.  The library has rooms that can be reserved for groups to gather in. The library was also hosting a live-stream viewing of the eclipse. Libraries do so much more than share books. They bring people together for good causes, information, lectures, workshops – and unique observations of this small planet we live on.

Our meeting commenced with facts and figures, observances and suggestions – and the increased “ping” of cell phones, alerting this one or that of where the moon and sun were in their celestial dance.

Citizen scientists and nature lovers, there are also several retired teachers who were itching to see Mother Nature in full solar force. One-by-one the chairs were vacated, business was concluded, and off we went to check out the live-stream or exit out onto the library’s outdoor grounds to experience this rare and unique phenomenon – a solar eclipse.

 

Here I am, my friends, expressing my own partial eclipse of the sun and the moon and my hair! (No, I did not look up with my bare eyes.)

Garden club members, who had been in attendance at the meeting, mingled with small children, library patrons, curious passers-by and library staff. Our dear friend Marilyn had eclipse glasses and shared them, as did the library’s director and others, passing the special spectacles around, sharing this special moment in time. I think I was as much in awe of those gathered as I was of the eclipse. A gaggle of dissimilar folks of all ages and backgrounds, abilities and interests, gathered on a walkway experiencing an eclipse of the sun.

I tried to imagine how our ancestors experienced an eclipse. They would not have had the big “build-up” we have experienced with scientific information, medical warnings, long lines waiting for free glasses – or the despicable scammers who sold glasses that were not what they claimed. Many of us remember altering boxes with pinholes, set upon our heads, class projects and spending time outdoors trying to catch images of the eclipse.

A few viewers were checking the weather on their cell phones, announcing a drop or two in degrees, which really is not unusual in Chicagoland.

We chatted and continued to share the sun glasses, a small consortium of curious folks following the sun and earnestly engaged in the moment. A chorus of crickets and locusts were strumming their music usually heard at dusk, though it was only midday. Their premature chorus was a call and response as we. in turn,  oohed and ahhhed and wowed and expressed our emotions at the awesome show in the cloudy sky on a hot summer day.

How about you? Did the eclipse’s path cross yours on August 21?

Have you ever experienced a solar eclipse?

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