Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Waning Days of Summer

If summer is the full throttle of gardening life, then autumn is not many a gardeners’ friend. Crops are harvested, seeds begin to set, plants gradually fade, and the incandescence of summer gives way to the muted hues of burnt, subdued rusts and ochres, pumpkins and burgundies, umbers and persimmons.

Autumn: that other book end of the gardening season.

If spring inflates, autumn deflates. If spring vitalizes, autumn devitalizes. If spring is celebrated for renewal and rebirth, esteemed for deliverance from the depths of winter, revered for buds and pastel flowers, then autumn is appreciated for the maturation of that which will soon pass.

Autumn signifies the decline of that which we have labored over for several months. Autumn compels us to face the passage of time—and the passage of time, in the linearity of human life, can only mean decline and decay. No wonder so many become glum in the elongating shadows of the midday sun, a melancholy punctuated only by the burning landscape of autumn color.

The Greeks had two words for life: zoē and bios. If the former referred to mere biological life in the sense of birth, maturation, decline, death, and decay, then the latter captured the very essence that makes us human: the projects and identities that make us idiosyncratic individuals and that give zoē meaning. We might learn something valuable from the Greek. Our melancholy at the passing of time is but a manifestation of our natural selves. But to be melancholy is to privilege the biological and to arrest that other form of life.

So, in these waning days of summer when the effects of autumn already appear, I look around and delight in the myriad of changes that begin to pepper the garden. Seemingly overnight, Rose Mallow shed her vibrant summer dress of green and chartreuse for her understatedly elegant burgundy gown. The one seed pod I allowed to remain on her stalks has turned a rich caramel (I do want her babies, but not so many of them!) The oat-like panicles of the Northern Sea Oats Grass have begun to redden on their way to a bronze finish, and I am warmed by his chromatic complement to Rose’s autumnal beauty.

And of course the season for pumpkins is rapidly approaching.

But in my garden, I just never know where “the pumpkin” will appear.

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