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The Melancholy of Autumn October 29, 2012

Posted by markgeil in Philosophical musings.

The squirrels in our back yard are confused. Yesterday, I finished a major culling of vines, weeds, and the remnants of this year’s garden. My chainsaw broke twice slicing through vines as thick as my forearm, coiled around much thicker trees, and the squirrels’ playground is now sparse. I should probably burn the resulting tangles of vegetation, but I would certainly catch the trees on fire and probably a neighbor’s house, so instead I just made massive piles in our small woods.

Topping one of those piles is what’s left of our cherry tomato crop. Bright red tomatoes still cling to a few of the vines, even now on October 29, even as most of the leaves have withered. There are few spiritual metaphors mentioned as frequently as seeds and gardens and fruit, but as I pulled the roots from the ground and untangled the tendrils from the cages, I was struck by the wonder of it all, as if I’d never before seen a seed sprout.

We bought these tomato plants from a school fundraiser catalog, which is to say we paid about 500% more than they were worth. They were supposed to be those fancy, modern upside-down hanging plants. Apparently that only meant the packet of seeds was accompanied by a plastic bag with a rope attached to one end and some perforated holes. We had to supply the dirt, start the seeds indoors in small cups, fill the bags, punch out the holes, transplant the baby cup-plants into the bags, nurture them flat on a table outside, then, finally, hang them and watch them grow. We did all that, up until the final step, whereupon we did hang them and watch them die.

We had extra seeds, so we decided to plant a handful in the back yard near the deck. These, perhaps grateful to be in a proper, less modern environment, grew. We watered them, and fed them, and they kept growing, and dozens and dozens of little green tomatolings were born.

Though I do not actually like cherry tomatoes, I harvested our bumper crop throughout the summer, filling buckets and bowls every week. I even tried to make homemade salsa with the little buggers, but the product of the hours of effort wasn’t nearly as good as the free stuff at Moe’s. Eventually, vines overtook our deck, escaping their wire cages and crawling along chairs and walls. In the end, we had grown and eaten and given away so many cherry tomatoes that I was content, yesterday, to pull up the vines without even picking the last little late bloomers.

A bitter wind whistles now through that back yard, setting free showers of leaves that paint the ground sepia. They are leaves from trees that we planted, when the kids were young, or not yet born. They were willow oak saplings that fit in the trunk of Amy’s parents’ car, and now they are rooted, and stand taller than our house. And all around them is death.

The melancholy of Autumn is the part of the story that all the metaphors about seeds and gardens and fruit tend to ignore. The leaves whither and fall. The tomato plants die. One day, even those willow oaks will succumb to disease, or wind, or just plain old age. Yesterday, though, as I noted how little effort it took to pull those huge dying plants up out of the ground where we had so recently placed such tiny seeds, I realized it’s all a good thing. God could have made perpetual plants, forever fruit, but this death, this cycle, is a better way. For the sprouting of a seed and the bearing of fruit is a miracle glorious to behold, and we get to do it over and over again.

Creation is the lifeblood of the created, and to be flabbergasted by growth and bounty is a gift. To know that an end is inevitable is to appreciate the present, and to trust in the promise that the melancholy will make way for joy.



1. Lane - October 29, 2012

If you didn’t listen to “When October Goes” as you wrote this, you missed a perfect opportunity. Great article.

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