Harvest Song

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1997. All rights reserved.

Summer's back is broken. The hot, dry winds of August gave way this week to steady rain. We haven't had a soaking like this since June, or May.

There will be more hot days this year, without doubt, but in these mountain valleys October is already in sight, and November too. Spring is often a latecomer, but autumn is ever anxious, showing up at the door weeks before he's due.

The Harvest by Vincent Van Gogh I see autumn in the meadows and pastures, where ryegrasses and wild wheat have reached maturity, their tops all yellow and bent over with the burden of seed. The goldenrod is blooming now, taking the place of monkeyflower and penstemon.

In our garden, a second crop of carrots are showing their orange roots above the dark earth.
We've seen the last of the raspberries for this year, I'm afraid, but the snow peas are still producing. Yesterday I dug up an armload of potatoes.

The urgency of spring sprouting and the rush of summer growth has given way to a time of laid-back fulfillment. Eggs have hatched and fledglings are now on the wing. Seeds and fruits and nuts and pods are well on their way to completion. Summer is ripe and ready for harvest.

"Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each... Grow green with spring, yellow and ripe with autumn."

Such was the sage advice of Henry David Thoreau written one day in late August. One hundred thirty-nine years later I find common ground in the truths he tilled.

It is not just the crops in the field we gather this time of year, but those in our souls as well.

People talk about the autumn and winter years of life as if spring were but a distant memory. This belies the flush of hope that surges through the oldest veins when crocuses first blossom. And it negates the sense of completeness even the youngest farmer feels at harvest time.

Each year's cycle is a condensed version of a lifespan. One year lived fully can survive eternity.
And so I try to remain awake to the season, whatever mood it's in. At noonday I drink deeply from the winey scent of fermenting fallen apples and stand stock-still at sunset facing west, taking in the red-orange afterglow.

Swathers mow through barley fields out on the flats just as sheep bands come down from the high country to be sheared. While ranchers  stack hay their dairy farming neighbors are storing up silage. And in the same moment that corn is being shucked some watermelon down valley is being severed from its vine.

Every harvest is the same, whether of berries or beans or spuds -- a gathering in, a stocking up, a payoff.   Youthful dreams of spring mature through summer in order that we can glean them in the cool, contemplative autumn air.
Come winter I will hold up this apple harvested from my tree and see the first green buds of April, smell the sweet fragrance of June, and feel the muscles in my shoulders stretching for it on some outlying branch.

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