a harbinger of frost

I walked my garden this morning, egged on by a vague sense of guilt that I have not done so in over a week. There was no reason for this feeling; I've had plenty of other work to do and anyway, the plants don't mind. They're too busy clinging to the lip of warmth that rises most afternoons and then drops precipitously away at sunset.

We're poised on the cusp of October, and while most people I know are following a different calendar—one that tells them autumn has just begun—I am keyed to the ancient Day Circle calendar, a relic of old agrarian societies in northern Europe. That calendar turns like a wheel rather than "paging" to the next month; in this manner, it is a better analog of our actual cycle of days. I could see October's relentless approach and am more than ready to roll into that season tonight—neither accelerating nor digging in my heels. It's a smooth transition, and my calendar tells me true winter will arrive in the coming weeks, dependent on the caprice of our climate.

First frost has held off here on the Front Range, though we've dipped to within a couple of degrees of the margin. The benefit is that my garden remains mostly green and the fruits that are going to ripen have done so without damage. Chilis have turned a rich, sweet, volatile red—indescribably delicious when chipped into sauces or scrambled eggs, or anchoring the last salsa of the season. My neighbor's table grapes are purple and heavy with sweetness. Even the tomatoes, which have no excuse for still hanging around, are thick on the vines. I pulled another 12 pounds off this morning.

But in honesty, the garden looks both satisfied and exhausted. As I stood before two of the huge tomato plants that had been the showpiece of the garden in August, I was struck by the fact that they resemble an old couple who have returned home after marrying off the last of their dozen daughters. They lean upon each other, their leaves puckered and frowsy, an attitude that anticipates the killing frost and their collapse into brittle brown carcasses slumped over the fence and trellis.

I pulled a mixed basket of tomatoes, eggplant, chilis, zucchini, and herbs. Tonight I'll mix up a couple of savory dishes from these fruits, including a delicious ratatouille. This was one of the best years ever for my home garden—tremendously productive thanks to a cool, wet spring that coaxed the young plants into prodigious growth. A mild summer followed, turning hot just at the right time before sloping into a warm, dry autumn. It's been a great year for growing, and we've enjoyed the bounty at our table.

If the garden makes it through to Sunday, I'll have a chance to pick the remaining green tomatoes (still so many!) and concoct a batch of green tomato soup with bacon and herbed croutons. I'll process what chili peppers remain, gather seeds and store them, and then I'll turn off the watering system. Within a couple of weeks, everything should be well burned and I can spend one more day in the garden, clearing the biomass, turning the compost, and taking a long breather, looking toward February and the festival of Imbolc, where I can start planning my 2010 garden.

Meanwhile, my calendar tells me it's time to turn inward again, to the work we do on our interior selves. There's a kind of garden there, too, and with tending and care, there will be plenty to harvest.