The vivid colors and scents of autumn are refreshing after the sultry dog days of summer. It’s definitely not, however, a time to be lazy. We have to labor like busy ants to complete our chores before winter’s chill hits.
Most of the work is pleasant because the weather is pleasant. Mosquitoes, ticks and gnats are long gone, and the air is fresh — and neither too hot nor too cold.
The smells of fall, if they aren’t already, should be bottled as essential oils. Apples, pumpkins and cinnamon-apple cider come to mind. Multicolored leaves raked together into a pile, burning and crackling, provide a wafting aroma, as do striped sunflower seeds roasting in a slow oven, with just a sprinkling of salt. The unique smell of pumpkin pulp from jack-o’-lanterns being carved. Winter squash covered with butter and brown sugar baking in the oven. Apples being transformed into spicy pies. Is there anything that says autumn more clearly? I consider all of these things a reward for taking the time to gather the harvest.
Fall means it’s time to pack away the light summer clothes and dig out the jackets and sweatshirts. “Cozy” is the key word here. A soft sweater chases away the nip in the air. It feels good to snuggle under flannel sheets and a light blanket once again. No more hot and humid sleepless nights to deal with (no air conditioning in our house!). It can be a bit depressing to pack away summer shorts and T-shirts, but it’s just another job in our theater of seasons. Not to worry, though, the heat will return next year!
It can also be bittersweet to collect and find a winter home in the garden shed for our tomato cages, garden tools, bird baths and outdoor statues as we say goodbye to summer. Before you know it, though, the seed and nursery catalogs will start arriving in the mailbox, and we’ll begin planning next year’s garden. To everything there is a season. I guess the garden needs a rest, just as we do. And there are always a few hardy flowering plants left that are temporarily safe if they’re covered at night. To me, it’s worth the effort to take a few minutes and cover them with old bedsheets, because even after a light frost, the sun warms things up again the next day, and I love to see outdoor flowers as late into the year as I can.
Since we have many trees in our yard, raking has always been a big, ongoing event. A few years ago, though, we decided to let our riding lawnmower shred the leaves and do the work for us. It was a good decision, and our garden area benefits from the leafy mulch.
I also take pleasure in gathering seeds, especially heirloom seeds. One little chore I’ve always enjoyed is collecting four o’clock flower seeds. Unlike tiny seeds of flowers like petunias, four o’clock seeds are large enough to be seen easily, making them simple to collect. I keep them in a labeled envelope, and, once planted, the splashy flowers grow well each year.
Butternuts are also fun to collect in autumn. When I was growing up, we’d gather the nuts that had fallen from a tree in our pasture, spread them in our granary attic to dry, and then smash the shells with a hammer to collect the nutmeats inside.
While working on those winter preparation chores, it’s nice to take an occasional break and watch flocks of birds head south, or a colored maple leaf drift lazily to the ground. In early fall, we’ve been fortunate enough some years to have a flutter of monarch butterflies show up in our yard, chasing each other in the cool breeze. Similarly, flocks of birds land in the trees in the ravine near our house, cackling loudly as though they’re telling us they’re southbound. They have their autumn jobs, too, I guess.
The autumn season brings with it both chores and magic. It’s a gentle hint of things to come, as well as a nudge that tells us to hustle and get ready for the months when the earth sleeps.
Belle Plaine, Minnesota
Read more stories about autumn chores in Autumn Farm Work: The Best and Worst Chores.