This story was originally published in the October 2018 Princeton Echo.
Summer can be like the guest at your party who was welcome when he arrived but does not take your hint about when to leave. Even as the days grow shorter and my shadow falls longer on the garden path, the heat of August lingers well beyond its welcome.
Until one recent morning when for the first time I noticed a diaphanous mist hanging over the grass. It was a gauzy curtain that turned my favorite trees into insubstantial shadows. The gate to the garden seemed to float mysteriously in the air. When the fog cleared later that morning, I saw what I had not noticed until now. The leaves were proudly glowing with autumn colors. Deep red, ocher yellow, burnt purple. A loamy aroma rose from the earth. Some trees were already bare ruined choirs, their branches grasping the sky.
Near my kitchen door was a single mushroom, red with white dots, that seemed to have sprung up overnight, as if in a time-lapse movie. When I was a schoolgirl, we used to pluck mushrooms while walking to class and put them in a shoebox with moss and leaves. How heartless! Now I would I’d like to put a fence around this lonely and vulnerable mushroom to protect it from the sniffing puppy.
A blue thrush flutters into the garden. He scratches the ground uneasily and then goes on to his birdhouse. Has the late heat wave confused him? Should he start a new nest? Is this why they call this time of year bluebird weather?
But in the afternoon it will be more predictable. I go out with my daughter. When we pass a white farmhouse we see children in summer clothes outside picking pumpkins. They shine like apples, gold in the sun. A harvest festival in October.
We stop, park, and run into the pasture to search for the biggest, the most beautiful. We need both hands to carry out the ones we choose.
It reminds me of the poem, “The Song of the Wandering Aengus” by W. B. Yeats:
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
The golden apples of the sun are a harbinger of Indian summer, a second spring. It is an unanticipated gift from nature, but like much of nature’s bounty, it can be treacherous. In it we find the bravado of a young man who thinks he will have eternal life — until the first killing frost arrives.
At home we will carve eyes, nose and mouth into the pumpkin and a place for the candle. We put it by the front door. Our neighbors do the same thing. That night a storm is predicted.
I bring the table umbrellas inside, the hammock. I pick up an abandoned badminton racket with broken strings and store it in the barn.
Now we are ready for Halloween, for Thanksgiving. For the sharp cold light of November.
Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer who lives in Princeton. Her memoir, “Saving Charlotte,” was published by W.W. Norton in 2017. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.