Late August Melancholy

I love this time of year.  The heat of August has been broken by a week of rain, leaving clear blue skies, cool nights and warm days, softened grass, and swollen peaches ready for the picking.

As I work outside in the yard, however, a melancholy seeps in, and I find myself pondering the ends of things.

Languid and sprawling, the vegetable garden lays itself out, spent and exhausted from 12 weeks of active fertilization and procreation.

Limp-limbed and weak with fading leaves, the tomatoes hang silently on their supports, baring the ripening fruit they hid so well in their caged jungle just two weeks ago.  Ripe for the picking, the plants offer no resistance, willing to let its fruit fall into any hand that will reach in and pluck it.  No flowers remain.  The plants offer only the sweet acidity of its fruit and the memory of a lush and steamy summer.

The squash plants, just last week nearly the size of dog houses and protecting themselves with prickly leaves large enough to clothe Adam and Eve, have collapsed onto themselves like giant deflated balloons. Enormous squashes, so elusive when they were small and desirable to eat, rest on the ground, hardened and overgrown, beyond desirable consumption.

The green beans are long gone, as are the cucumbers, and although the peppers will hold their thick-fleshed boxy fruit for quite a while still, they are beginning to lean on each other for support while they wait patiently for the gardener to make her run through with her harvest basket and cutters.

The Swiss chard and the beets will be alive and well for several more weeks, at least until the first hard frost, but the chard leaves are growing tougher and will require longer cooking, and the beets grow larger every day.  The kale, upright and hardy until winter, begs to be chopped for a soup.  The basil is running riot with flowers, making it almost impossible to keep it pinched back making it produce new leaves.

The bees love basil blossoms and they hum happily as they gather and steal away back to their hives, loaded with pollen.  For the bees, everything they do is about their queen surviving the winter, and yet they fly only 28 days, give or take a few, their tiny life spans are only a few weeks longer than that. Honey bees fly until their wings fall off, and then they die.

And I think about the ends of things.  The end of the season, the end of my own life, which I certainly hope is in the very distant future, and every year at this time, I give my thanks for another summer – and then I ask for more.

And I think to myself, “Only so many summers left before I lay lifeless in the ground offering only memories of sweet acidity and a life lived”.  I wonder how many more hot and lusty summers nights will be mine to enjoy, savoring in the sweet sweat of all that gives life.  Weak limbed, languid, and exhausted, sprawling, I feel pity for the plants, for they have but one summer before they die, and I have had so many summers.  And I feel pity for those who live and breathe by hate, because I know the beauty of a life filled with love, and I know how sweet and delicious it can be.

When I come to my senses, standing there with a sore back, basket in one hand, cutters in the other, I remember that what I have is today, so I give thanks for it.  And I bend over to pull another weed, pick another tomato, cut some chard for dinner, thankful for the breeze that cools the sweat on my brow.

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7 Comments

  1. August 29, 2010 at 10:09 am

    This is beautiful.

  2. August 29, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Thank you, Molly.

  3. Jennifer Chartier said,

    August 29, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    I find the stark contrast of New England seasons useful for marking time and for keeping us more mindful by the unique tasks and gifts of each. When visiting Florida for extended lengths of time, the sameness of the days was disconcerting, with really only two gradually occurring seasons. Maybe that accounts for a more relaxed approach to time by many in the tropical climates?

    Autumnal melancholy. Yup, I feel it every year. One funny thing happens when I see the school buses after their summer absence. My heart momentarily flutters with dread, until my mind remembers that they are not coming for ME. I still get a very visceral reaction – go figure. When my head catches up to my momentary fear, I switch to my happy dance, discreetly of course. I don’t want to rub salt in the wounds of the neighbor kids!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You have a gift with words and paint a beautiful and thought provoking picture.

  4. Descartes said,

    September 5, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    One of my tiny regrets of living in Texas is that we really have only three seasons, Spring, Summer, and a fairly brief touch of Winter. My on little garden is getting ready to give up the ghost, but still looks much as it did a couple of weeks ago.

    I have long ago passed the melancholy of my youth and not yet found my way into the melancholy of maturity. This might have something to do with my Grasshopper view of life-I fully expect death to come upon me while I am busy blogging and I will make him wait a few moments while I finish a thought.

    Great writing.

    • September 6, 2010 at 11:51 am

      Thanks, Jon. I like your image of being too busy to die when death comes a’knocking. I have told my husband and daughter both that what I want on my gravestone, when the times comes, is “She Died Living”.

  5. Lisa Tener said,

    November 4, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    The end of things is taking a long time! You wrote that in August and we still have raspberries in November.

    • November 4, 2010 at 6:08 pm

      We do also. I picked some just this week. Only a few, but it was enough to make me sigh.


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