by Heather Hamilton
Smoke settling across the hills. Cold feet in the morning. Sun-saturated tomatoes heavy on the vine. Dew gathered on rich green kale leaves. Bees seeking the last pollen, yellow clusters on their legs as they fly home.
Fall wraps the farm in the softness of days on their way to frost and early darkness. The waning of the harvest will be here soon, and with it the upending of our little farm as we topple dying tomato vines and uproot withered squash, knock bolted lettuce to catch the seeds in a paper bag for future growing. We will turn the soil new with plant debris and alpaca manure, inviting worms and insects to a winter’s long feast. We prepare to plant garlic, whose small shoots will survive the cold blanketed in mulch, awaiting the next seasons. Fava beans, too, are already sprouting, their round leaves unfurling misty green – roots beginning to pull nitrogen into the soil, a living preparation for a healthy spring. Cabbage heads as small as a fist expand, purple-green and iridescent with rain collected over the veiny leaves. Cauliflower too – whose ruffled heads will form only with the sharp chill of winter as a trigger – inflate in a zigzag row. And, at the same time – perhaps more expected – death comes, and rotting, and bare patches where we once could barely walk for fear of crushing some delicate crop. As much as all the seasons harbor change, fall is an extended transition, a time when one week grants warmth and the next it storms and freezes. One week calls for planting, and the next culling brown leaves, tossing pile after pile in the compost.
Fall wraps the farm in the softness of days on their way to frost and early darkness.
Amidst all this – all that is new, and fading – the farm is not done giving. In the cool and the shade, lettuce and spinach stretch their leaves; pea flowers scatter white, and make way for tender pods; full, ripe winter squash – yellow, red, musty green – emerge from amongst dying vines. We build small mountains of food in boxes and bags. Peppers and arugula, enormous leeks and rutabagas. Turnips and a few last tomatoes. This community woven through food is sturdy, and in many ways invisible – a network of meals made from our soil, towering abundantly in the midst of a robust ecosystem. Each pumpkin gone to an eager child; each squash made into a family’s dinner; each bag of lettuce filling an empty fridge. As we harvest, as the cold tries to tame unruly tangles of green, I imagine where this food will go, and strive to draw a little more to eat from each plant.
For now, at least, our crops are buoyed along by the remains of summer’s heat. The world blanches to make way for new colors – the thick orange of ripening pumpkins, the deep purple of eggplant, and the jeweled red of the last radishes rising from brown soil, triumphant.