Thursday, September 8, 2011

Going to Seed

This late summer I have spent a lot of time cloud-watching (riding the mower over the lawn is an excellent way to do this and still be useful, I have found). For the past few days we have been watching a lordly progression of fog banks and the build-up of clouds. From high up on the mainland hills the fog can be seen concentrated over the Reach. Huge peaks build sharply where the coasting moisture collides with the warm air over the water and shreds on the wind passing through the towers and cables of the bridge. Last evening, piles of thundercloud, backlit by a westering sun, billowed over thinning cotton-wool blown in from the water. The promised thunderstorm never materialized, but instead feathered off to the north and south of us, surrounding, but not touching our little island.

Today, slow-moving cumulus shrouds the mountains across the water. The tide is out and gulls skate the bumpy mudflats that widen out against the toothed crescent of the causeway. Cars hush across from island to island; engine noise muffled by the southeast-tending breeze.

Where the tree line of the mainland meets gentle undulations of cloud, a thin whisper of white light appears; it's clearing over the northeast islands and we are wound in a cloudy scarf that leaves an opening over our neighborhood for blue sky and late, buttery sun to pour in.

In the garden, bumblebees, still stupefied by last evening's damp and sudden dip in temperature, spread their wings in the sun or cling to the undersides of the leaves of bee balm, lily, phlox and rose. We're slowly leaving the too-green phase of summer when even a gray day intensifies the color of the grass, trees, garden and fields. The punctuation of Queen Anne's lace, black-eyed Susan, sunflowers is a relief amid all that green as much as the holly, cardinals, and mailbox flags are against the unbounded white of winter.

Already the early morning air feels like fall and crickets pulse in the grass. Already the gardens seem too full: overburdened. Tomatoes come in their usual rush, beans and beets, cucumbers and the last of the peas clamor to be picked and threaten to bolt. In the afternoons when the breeze comes up off the water it brings with it the damp sting of winter.

On a trip south lighthouse-hopping last weekend I overheard a woman, obviously from a warmer clime, ask a museum docent what the "little tomato-shaped things" were on the bushes outside. Of course they were rose hips, the bright inevitable harbingers of fall in New England. All around us seeds are swirling at this time of year. Vivid thistle heads have gone fuzzy and gray, the foamy white blossoms of hawthorn have fallen away to reveal carmine haws, holly-red beads pop out along the branches of the winterberries, and the fountains of red-orange drupes cluster on branches of mountain ash. The road to the water is crunchy with fallen cones, some still green, others showering the path with translucent seeds, and along the deer track goldenrod and milkweed send up clouds of fluff into the air.

In the vegetable garden, unpicked lettuce and radishes raise spires of blossoms aloft, pole beans fatten and and sunflowers lift speckled faces up to the hungry birds.

Soon every living thing will be busy. We will tighten up the house: add insulation, replace windows, weather-strip doors, lay in firewood. The birds will become frantic at the feeder and fight over scraps of bread in the yard. Bees will burrow in the throats of late-blooming delphinium and foxgloves, gather busily in the hearts of the last of the roses and crowd out the butterflies in the grape-like clusters of the buddelias. In the evening the deer already gather warily in the back field eating and eating the sweet, green grass. We'll all soon be in a hurry to harvest, preserve, protect, and gather in and the seeds will swirl out, out, out into the thinning air.