October 14, 2008 by Ellen Stimson in Autumn, Living With Intention, New England, Vermont

We needed to put the garden to bed. Old dead vines once filled with zucchini and tomatoes look downtrodden and messy out there in the middle of all this autumnal wonder. Their day is past and it seemed mean to leave them there looking so miserable. The weekend promised sunshine and temperatures in the 60s. Cool sunshine perfect for a thin sweater, long skirt, and cowboy boots. Sometimes you just gotta dress like the tourists and make them think we all look like this up here all the time. Little do they know that by the middle of stick season deep into November when the winds are howling and the trees are bare we all run to the grocery store in six layers one of which is surely an old flannel nightgown whose torn edges are flapping around our good Canadian boots. From then until April the boots and the lip balm are the only designer affects we can abide. But for now we romanticise and dress the part in old blue and blackwatch vests over burnt orange sweaters next to the boots and long skirts that look like an ad for the Sundance catalog. Nothing in the outfit seemed right for putting away the garden and so we drove around these old high hills instead, stopping in one after another of the little villages selling cider and bread along the sides of the road. There were craft and art fairs around every bend and the mountains were in their October Sunday best. We got so carried away that we made our way into a wine shop in Ludlow where we not only bought wine, but a corkscrew and real glasses better to look the part.

The next morning was just as sunny and the garden was still just as sad. So after a big breakfast we figured this would be the day. The leaves are piling up like the snowdrifts will before long. I suggested that maybe we should make a dent in them too and John asked me to look up. I looked and saw that he was looking at the millions of leaves in the hundred or so trees around the house. I suggested that we rake for the same reason we make the bed. John grinned and headed out to the garden. I opened up the basement and hauled out the garden tools. But then I heard him calling me up on the hill above the garden which is ringed by old maples. He’d spread a soft quilt and suggested that we should lie down and watch the leaves fall. And so we did. Surrounded on that little hill by more than a dozen maples that have been growing here for most of a century we watched as some floated quietly down and others twirled and spun in a last hurrah of a red and orange ancient hula. Minutes turned into hours and before long the morning was gone and the farmer’s market was closing at 2. We ran off for cheese and apples, and salty bread stuffed with kale and garlic. We did get back to the garden and eventually the plants got cut and the bright red tomato cages tucked away in six foot long rows waiting for spring and another go. By late afternoon the cool sunshine had faded to a chilly evening and so we carried wood up from the basement and filled the wood closet just in case.

Only then today dawned sunny and mild and we tramped back outside with coffee and quilt before work for another round of leaf peeping the Vermont way. At this rate if we go every couple of days we will actually bear witness to the falling of the leaves. Even today the black outlines of the orangery Halloween trees were clearer. There were patches of sunlight where just yesterday the sun had been blocked by the blanket of orange and red. So many years this all blows away in one big drama queen of a windstorm. But this year it is gently moving along. I’d know it was happening whether I lay looking up giggling with this man I love or not. Because we have three or four inches of base leaves now. Eloise our Bernese Mountain Dog like me enjoys the crunch and crackle and goes out of her way to avoid the driveway and walks instead where the leaves are thick and the crackle is loudest. But this year I have decided besides looking out and over these mountains and admiring the views that roll down our way, this year I will look up instead of only down and out. The metaphor is not lost on me. The gray years of the horrible quaint country store are fading. We have gotten another beginning right here smack in the middle of these our middle years. So here in this gentle October with this man I have loved for more than twenty odd years I will gratefully remember to always look up. Because this place is the most beautiful spot on earth for two or three weeks out of the year. The rest of the time it is merely one of the most beautiful. So I will bear witness to the falling of these leaves and I will feel glad and full and not worry about the winter that is surely coming. They always do come, but here in this high valley amid these old mountains, I am reminded that the gaudy technicolor always comes back too. We just must remember to watch the show……


  • Kellan

    This sounds like a delightful way to spend the afternoon – lying on a guilt watching the leaves fall – really delightful! Loved this story, E!

    Take care – Kellan

  • ILX

    ILX said: still fairly green around old STL…mid 80’s over the long weekend; feels like late summer here; leaves just barely beginning to turn…nice wet summer so we should have nice fall display. Lots of woolly bears around so maybe a cold winter…

  • molls

    I don’t think I have ever actually watched them fall. But I want to now. I am going to find a park and watch the show….

  • Trannyhead

    I’m so happy to know that you guys don’t really dress like that all the time. It makes me feel better about my own slacker yoga pants that I sport in the cold weather.

    Flannel is fantastic – I don’t care what the fashionistas say!

  • starrlife

    Wasn’t last weekend the absolutely most beautiful you’ve ever seen? It was perfect for several days in a row- i think I OD’d! Nah, I can do some more before winter:)
    Thanks BTW for the kind words of support.

  • Katiedid

    What a perfect way to spend a morning. And that he got the quilt after 20 years says more about the marriage than your posts ever do.
    We are having an amazing fall here too. It is perfection in Montreal. But I haven’t stared up at falling leaves since I was little. Why not? I am going to do this today and see if I can lay there for thirty minutes without checking my berry. I read your essays and they call me to another life….and then I run around like a hampster back inside mine. But I do keep reading and now I am even going to a church, well it’s almost a church anyway. It is for ethical humanists. It has stained windows like a church and we meet on Sundays anyway. Does that count? Maybe your leaf church is what I really need

  • library lady

    This morning as I was leaving for work at 6:30, I realized that I hadn’t put the trash cans away from yesterday. The sun was just barely coming up, but the full moon from the night before was still hanging in the sky, a breeze blew a few golden leaves from our big maple tree onto my head and shoulders and I thought to myself, “Only a real fool would be out in the driveway doing this instead of staying in bed with her head covered up.”

  • Kate

    I too, noticed that the leaves are hanging on, falling slowly in their own time this year. I sat on the swing in the backyard and did just the very same thing. Watched them fall. What a treat.

  • Trannyhead

    Ok so I tried to email the recipe to you but got that “no reply” message thing from blogger so I’m going to leave you the recipe in comment form.

    1. 3-4 large yellow squash, peeled and cut into maybe 1 inch thick round slabs
    2. One onion, diced
    3. 1 cup or so of Pepperidge farm herb dressing. Yes, the brand is important – the other stuff makes the casserole the wrong texture.
    4. 3 tbsp butter
    5. sharp cheddar cheese (shredded) – at least a cup and a half, but add to taste.
    6. 1 egg

    Boil the slabs of squash until the squash is soft but not squishy. Drain it. Sautee the diced onion in 1 of the tbsps of butter. Put onion and squash in a mixing bowl and mash. You want the texture to be soft, but not liquidy. There should still be some big chunks of squash after the mashing. Then you add the dressing, the egg, and the cheese. You want it to be moist but not overly so. You may have to try it a couple of times to get the texture just right – it’s something I know when I see it, but it’s hard to explain over a blog comment! Anyway – it should be moist, but not liquidy. If it’s too liquidy, you can just add more stuffing. I always put more cheese in this than my mom does – I think it tastes better with more. Anyway, then you bake it in a greased casserole dish at 350 for 45 minutes covered. Then remove the lid, sprinkle some extra cheese on top, and then bake it for maybe 10 more minutes until the cheese melts.

    Trust me – this recipe will melt in your mouth. I know my amounts are sort of vague, but it’s pretty hard to mess this recipe up. It’s an old family recipe of ours and I LOVE it. I hope you like it, too!

  • jamie

    Iowa is beautiful right now, too. Although, I would so love to see Vermont in the fall. I bet it’s amazing! 🙂

  • Susiewearsthepants

    We lived in the mountains of Tennessee growing up. My brothers and sisters and I loved to make a huge pile of leaves and bury ourselves in them or jump on the pile. It was so much fun. Sigh-I don’t even have trees in my yard now.

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