The sun was just beginning to appear over the thick pines surrounding my yard, and the garden was still in shade. A neighboring partridge whirred through the underbrush on his way home, and Rufus, my intrepid West Highland terrier, shot off to investigate.
Chuckling, I turned my attention to the garden. A couple of weeks ago, it was beautiful. A bouquet of tall sunflowers in the middle had been surrounded on all four sides by successive plantings of lettuce, beans, and carrots throughout the cool Vermont summer.
Since then, however, chickadees and titmice had stripped the sunflowers bare, and the shorter days had discouraged the beans from flowering. The carrots were still snuggled in their burrows, of course, but the lettuce—Little Gems, my husband’s favorite Romaine—were starting to get that translucent look that signifies impending wilt or insipient bolt.
I pulled a big, woven basket out from its hiding place beneath a tree and began to pull up the beans and any errant weeds. In half an hour, the basket was full and an exhausted Westie had returned to sprawl in the cool grass beside me. He had assured the family’s safety from marauding partridges, and was now content to lie down, ears pricked, and listen to the wind.
I finished weeding, then sat on the grass beside him. “That old partridge outfox you again?” I asked. I ruffled the dog’s coat, inhaled the sweet morning air, and listened with him.
This is my favorite time of year. It’s a deep, slow breath between late summer vacations, soccer sign-ups, and early fall chores like taking out the screens, painting the house, making applesauce, and preparing the garden for winter.
It lasts only moments. But in a world with too many abrupt changes—in places, people, and lives—the breath between summer and fall offers a gentle transition that slows us down and gives us time to listen to our lives.
It gives us time to notice the Canada geese arriving on my neighbor’s pond at dusk with a feathery splash, and like good houseguests, taking themselves off immediately after an early morning breakfast.
It gives us time to notice the hummingbirds gathering in my clearing as they tank up on nectar from the feeder, then take off like small feathered emissaries headed for Central and South America.
How do they know when it’s time to go? How do they know where they’ll find food? How will they keep track of their children? Do they simply take off and have faith that what they need will be provided?
Do I? Could I just hop in the car and head south without credit cards and reservations? How would my life be different if I did?
I looked down at Rufus, content in the morning sun. And listened more deeply.
©Ellen Michaud 2010