It happened sooner than I was expecting. The seedheads and weeds were overtaking the garden faster than the late summer wildflowers could climb up and over them to crowd them on out. And the days were rapidly cooling. And getting shorter.

It’s fall. I don’t care what the calendar says. And things are dying.

As a gardener, I have mixed feelings about this time of year. Horticulturally, that is. My feelings for autumn otherwise are an unmixed vat of joy and relief, as I am pretty much the least enthusiastic cheerleader for summer you’ve ever seen. And now that I’m a runner, I’m even more eager to greet the frost with open arms. But a garden is a different thing. And it calls for a different response.

Most gardens, of course, are built for the summer months. Sure, you could create a landscape rich with mums and hardy foliage to see you through the cooler months, but even that is a stop-gap. A bandaid. Most of us will admit that this time of year is simply the end. When the magazines in the grocery stores start prematurely featuring pumpkins in their cover art, it’s time to go outside and Do Something About The Garden. Time to take it in hand, as my grandmother would say.

So that’s what I did today.

I started by just pulling a few of the wild daisy stems by hand, their blackened old heads bobbing high above grey, cobwebby stems. These came out easily from the loose, sandy soil. No struggle at all. And they were intermingled with great airy shoots of the one plant that I still wanted to leave intact — the wild baby’s breath that is only now bursting out into delicate, white song.

Once I’d cleared that tiny area of intermingled loveliness, though, it was time for the heavy artillery. Time to pull out the loud whirring device that knocks all stems flat in its wake. It’s sold under the name of “weed whacker,” but I am the kind of gardener who barely discriminates between what the world calls a “weed” and what I call a “welcome addition to the family,” so I don’t call it that.

I don’t know what I call it, but I don’t call it that. All I know is that I need it, this time of year.

And down they went, arcing row by arcing row. I did what I could to keep the baby’s breath free from harm, and I left the heather standing in its proudly defended corner, too. They’ll get their haircut come early spring. In the meantime, the heather, like the cheese, stands alone.

I’ll plant bulbs near the heather, in a month or so. Once things have settled down. After the last warm breath of summer has well and truly faded, and the windows are closed in the bedroom against the chill of the air.

Bulbs are also a thing that I need. I plant them every autumn; I consider them a down payment on spring. A promise to myself that there are more flowers to look forward to, more life on the other side of winter. And all winter long, I look at that corner of the garden, and think about the sneak attack spring that is lying in wait there. Like it’s a secret between me and the ground. No one suspects a thing!

I need to know those bulbs are there, somehow. And they, of course, need me to plant them. That’s how the whole system works.

So I whacked today. And my wildflower patch isn’t too terribly big, so it was only a matter of minutes before all lay flat and tidy before me. A few tiny orange butterflies fluttered anxiously about, wondering what had happened to the vast forest of leaves and branches that had sheltered them only moments before.

Fall. It’s a time of changes, you know. Of loss, if you really must know. And of clearing the way for the next thing to come.

We lost our cat last week. Amelia. Our girl cat, our last cat, the sister to the brother who passed away last fall. Satchel and Amelia. They were the cats of our youth, found abandoned in a vacant lot on the bad side of town. Our friend Colin, who worked in an organ factory on that bad side of town, scooped them up and brought them to us without a second thought. We had an old couch in that apartment, one we didn’t use. We turned it up on its end and made it into a low-rent kind of cat tree for them. That’s where they sat, perched high above the floor, at a human adult’s eye level, for those early years. House parties. Poker nights. The couch sat right next to the toe line for our dart board, and they’d get cuddles for good luck at every single turn.

That was seventeen years ago now.

Seventeen years, and those cats, saw us through more changes and upheavals than I’d care to recall. They were with us when we moved back to Cape Cod, with us when we were struggling to find friends here, with us when we finally got decent jobs and nice friends and spare time. With us when we started to travel for pleasure, leaving them behind in the care of my father or friends. We’d fret about them then, as a low-level hum in the background of our minds, as we wandered around in those far-off cities and towns.

It was always there, that low thrum of anxiety. Of knowing they were there, and that they needed us home.

Now we are planning a trip to England later this fall, and we will be spared that constant thrum of care. Spared the need to write out excruciatingly detailed instructions for their sitters. Spared the joyful welcome home when we finally burst through the door again, laughing and dropping luggage at our feet amid swirling curlicues of fur. Shivering, dancing with joy.

That trip is just over a month away now. I do need a vacation. I know I do. But for now, I wait.

I wait while I watch another autumnal robe drape itself carelessly over the trees lining the river by my home. I bend over in the setting sun and clear away cobwebby old daisies. I pull out the spent stems of my day lilies and stack them carefully in a pile behind the shed wall.

I am sparing the baby’s breath, though. The baby’s breath can stay. I bring some inside with me when I’m done. Tuck it carefully into a jam jar and set it high up on the mantle, eye level with a human, where the cool autumn air can come in through the window. Make it shiver and dance.

Bulbs will be planted and lay dormant until spring. Lilies will spread and run rampant next June. And right about now, I suppose somebody somewhere is noticing a cat will have kittens. And they’ll be needing a home.

And I’ll be needing them, too.


Image by Just a Prairie Boy.

new york new york

So we’ve been quietly planning our upcoming vacation in New York, and finally locked in our reservations today.  Here’s how it all shook out:

 My birthday present was preview tickets to Young Frankenstein on Broadway.  As a huge Mel Brooks fan, and specifically a ridiculous fan of this movie, I was thrilled.  The tickets are for the actual date of our anniversary, October 18 (which really makes them more of an anniversary present, so where’s my birthday present, dude, but who’s counting), so we started planning a trip to New York around that date.

For the last couple of years, we have gone to Vermont in the fall.  And that has been great, but after last October’s trip we agreed that we were ready for the big city again.

Of course, we go to NYC several times a year as it is, as observant readers know, but those are quickie visits to Yankee Stadium.  We typically drive straight in from the north, catch a game at the Stadium, and zip back out for another casual four and a half hours in the car.  It’s a heck of a day trip, but it keeps us reasonably sane as hard-core Yankee fans living in the heart of Red Sox country. 

So this time we decided we would stay in the heart of Manhattan again, like we did a few years ago, and do all those things we are usually too distracted by Yankee Stadium to do. 


But today we discovered that the hotel we wanted — the one we stayed in before — didn’t have the availaibility we wanted, so we looked a bit further afield, and the end result is that our New York City Vacation has just become a Brooklyn Vacation!  And How Cool Is That?

This opens up whole new vistas!  I mean, sure, we’ll still do all the cool museums and stuff, but Brooklyn!  Home of many cool and interesting people!  Home of Etsy!  And Daptone!  And so much more!

So we are happy and excited.  We will be staying in a rather nice hotel in the heart of downtown.  We will take the train to Manhattan some days.  And some days we will stay in Brooklyn and do Brooklyn things.

And this is all to take place AFTER we spend several days in the Hudson River Valley, looking at the wee summer cottages some people built there in the last century.  For that leg of the trip, we have actually rented a house for the duration.  And this one actually IS a wee house.  With a wee jacuzzi. 

So, to recap:  New York!  Vacation!  It’ll be great!

What would be really great is if through some MIRACLE the Yankees are actually still PLAYING in October this year.  And we can watch goddamn mutherfucking playoff baseball in New York.  Among our people.

energy efficient

It is way too cold in my house. I am all wrapped up in two blankets with my fleece pullover pulled over my chin. I keep trying to convince my boycat to come sit on my feet to warm my toes but he is having none of it.

It’s that awkward time of year when I still want to have some fresh air in the bedroom at night but I also want several quilts on top of me. I can’t stand for there to be too much heated air in the bedroom. Fills me with puritanical guilt.

I grew up in a drafty old Victorian house that was lovely and well maintained when we inherited it from my Great Aunt E, but was rapidly and irrevocably trashed when we moved in with five Newfoundland dogs.

Aunt E had all this beautiful old mahogany furniture — claw footed secretaries, marble topped end tables, drop leaf tables with elaborate scroll work that was an utter bore to dust with pledge every year when company came over for the holidays…

Now all that furniture has deep claw marks at all the bases, broken handles, missing drawers. I’m always seeing similar items on Antiques Roadshow and saying yep, ours would be worth a lot of loot, too, if it weren’t for how we destroyed all that.

The house had no upstairs heating. Still doesn’t, and Mom still lives there. To go to bed in winter I used to put on two pairs of long underwear, a flannel nightgown, two pairs of socks, a hat, and mittens, then dive under as many of Aunt E’s gorgeous old quilts (trashed) as I could pile on me and run in place (you know? like, you run? On your side? tell me you’ve done this) under the blankets to burn up some frictive heat.

My nose was always cold. Always.

You would think that this chilly childhood would have turned me into a thermostat-cranker, but I’m actually pretty happy with the heat at a nice, moderate 70 degrees. It’s just times like this, when the heat was turned down all day because it was a lovely 60 degrees today while the sun was up, but now it is 39 degrees, so I came home to a bit of a frosty abode, that I start to feel the panic rise.

Fortunately, my house is the size of a small peanut, so it takes less time than than you can imagine to heat the place up. Three-room cottages rock that way.

So now it’s a bit more tolerable in here, and my nose is only a little cold. Let’s move on.

I’ve got an interview at one of my fancy schools tomorrow. The fanciest, as a matter of fact, unless I decide to really splurge and also apply to that kick-ass school in the Back Bay. That place is even fancier. All their photos have rooms with oriental rugs in them. It costs even more than Harvard.

This place costs almost as much as Harvard, but what the hell. That’s what grants and scholarships are for. Like I’ve always said: it’s only the fancy expensive schools that have the money to pay for you if they want you. I went to a top-notch private college and paid less than my friends who went to UMass did.

Show me the endowment. Show me!

Anyway who knows. All this is very theoretical. It’s best to not project to the future, to remain in the now, keep your head where your feet are.

And you know where my feet are?


Who needs grad school when you’ve got that?