Autumn came so fast this year.
September is usually a cruel month, tantalizing us with the changing seasons and leaving us sweating bullets. All the pools are closed but it’s so hot, all I want to do is go swimming. There are silk marigolds and Halloween candy for sale in the stores, but it’s too sticky to wear sweaters or turn off the constant roar of the window air conditioners.
This year, right on the first day of fall, the temperatures crashed into the sixties. It was sunny, windy, clear, soothing cool, the perfect temperature for a nice long hike in the woods a long way from Steubenville.
Of course I couldn’t hike in the woods a long way from Steubenville. The situation with the car is still not worked out.
We raised a small car fund in the gofundme and then we started searching. I found a local dealer with a reputation for honesty who said he was refurbishing a subcompact that met my needs; he just had to “look it over” and see what it needed. He said it would be in our budget but he didn’t say how much. I waited, so far four days, and haven’t heard back. We had to dip into the car fund a bit to pay bills, but I’m trying to hoard as much of it as I can. Adrienne is going through a growth spurt and needs an extensive trip to Old Navy but I’m holding off on everything for the moment. I’m scared that the Car Fund won’t be enough for the mystery price. I’ll call him again tomorrow.
A wonderfully generous friend is letting us borrow her old car for a few days, until our car situation is fixed, but her car is on its last legs and can’t be trusted on the highway. So only drive it around Steubenville, on short trips, remembering to brake very gently. And this is great, much better than our situation before we borrowed the car. Still, I keep checking my texts every hour or so, eager for exciting news, and I keep getting disappointed.
I am anxious about the car. But it’s so nice to have the air conditioners turned off, I forget to be anxious for long.
It was cool for a week straight and cool weather is predicted until after my birthday in October. That’s a dream come true. We actually dared to go to all the work of removing the big metal box from the kitchen window and just propping the window open for a breeze today– usually, we don’t do that until frost. It was quiet– beautifully, mercifully quiet.
In that quiet, Adrienne and I went out to the community garden to dig potatoes.
Potatoes are my favorite thing to grow, though I haven’t had a successful crop yet. I love attempting to grow them because they are dramatic. They put on a show. First you have to nurse seed potatoes in a sunny window for weeks until they sprout. Then you put them in the biggest well-drained planter you can find, on a layer of pebbles, covered with a thin layer of light soil. Within a day or two, the potatoes will be sending out tall shoots like Jack’s beanstalk. A week later they’re strong plants several inches high, so you re-bury them with more soil. But the next day, the plants will be peeking out of the soil again, and two weeks later they’ll be giant, so you bury them alive once again. When the planter is full of soil, you can keep stacking straw on them if you wish. Pile it up to the sky or leave it there. Then you carefully water your great big dramatic potato vines until they die off, and you wait two weeks, and the planter will be full of potatoes. This is how it works in theory. In real life, the times I’ve tried to grow potatoes, I’ve gotten impatient and dug for them in mid-August. All I got was a few handfuls of marble-sized spuds. This time I was patient. I didn’t touch the potatoes until the vines had really died, and here I was harvesting at the end of September.
I’d grown the vines in giant planters from the garden store, in lovely peat-based organic potting soil with whimsical drawings of frogs on the package. I’d waited for this moment since March. And Just now I realized I didn’t know how I was going to get the potatoes out.
Finally, I settled on turning them over. It took several big heaves– and with each heave, I expected another disappointment. I imagined going to all of this work for nothing but mud and starchy marbles again. Finally, the barrel tipped over, exposing several spotted slugs and a family of Armadillidiidae underneath. I found myself elbow-deep in soil.
The soil was full of potatoes.
Most were smaller than my fist, but some were bigger than the potatoes that come from a grocery store. Only one was a dangerous green; the rest were ivory-colored inside with thin gray paper skins outside. And there were lots. Every time I thought I’d gotten them all, I found another. Adrienne and I sifted through the potting soil, gathering up our treasure in the crisp Autumn air.
As I marveled, she played. She bounced a potato off the sidewalk outside the garden and watched it break.
“Those are our crops!” I laughed. “How do you expect to get through the winter?”
“The grocery store!” she taunted back.
After potatoes, I harvested corn. I only grew one small circle of cornstalks this year, heirloom indigenous corn I ordered from a co-op, but I was careful to hand-pollenate the tassels so the corn would have a better yield. I took the ears off the stalks, calculating that I had enough for a pot of homemade popcorn or two and enough left over to save for seed. I could plant a much bigger container next year.
The peppers and eggplant are still yielding, and I harvested some.
The tomatoes were still not done; another batch will be ready for pasta sauce in a few days.
The acorn squash I planted to creep among the corn somehow went the opposite way, intruding among the tomatoes. I laughed at a single dark green acorn squash dangling from a vine that had tangled itself around a tomato cage, as if the squash were trying to masquerade as a tomato.
I put my day’s harvest into one of the planter barrels to drag home.
Everything felt all right.
Everything felt wonderful.
Everything felt possible.
September is the best month, this year.
image by the author
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.