Here in north-central Indiana, there's nothing so final as
the first fall freeze. It means the end of red tomatoes and
green peppers and yellow corn. It means the end of
simmering pots of catsup and open crocks of pickles dining
on the kitchen counter. It means the end of summer.
And the start of some of the most frenzied activity of the
year. Activity more hectic than the canning season, more
bustling than spring housecleaning. We call it "Getting
Ready for Winter".
It all begins the morning after the first freeze. While the
pepper plants are still upright. Before the tomatoes wilt
and die. Before the sweet potato vines blacken.
We get up . . . yawn and stretch . . . look at the
thermometer outside the kitchen window . . . and are
instantly awake! There's no time for coffee or leisurely
barn chores. We pull on our heavy coats and fleece-lined
boots and head straight for the garden.
There are sweet potatoes to be dug and spread on the warm
furnace room floor. Hampers to be filled with the largest
green tomatoes before the vines die. (We carry the fruit
into the cellar, wrap each of the tomatoes in a square of
newspaper, and set them in a dark corner to ripen.)
We till the garden (while being careful to leave the bushy
clump of brussels sprouts and the delicate "ferns" that
mark the row of carrots); Cover the turnips with bales of
hay and rake leaves up around the last of the celery. Pull
the bean plants, pluck their dried pods, and take the plump
hulls inside to shell out later during long evenings around
the fireplace. Pick an armful of red and orange and yellow
zinnias and arrange them into one last bouquet. We chop the
cornstalks. We put the garden to bed.
And then we hurry on to prepare the rest of our little farm
for winter. Someone must take the chain saw to the woods .
. . slice last spring's fallen trees into neat, uniform
logs . . . and stack the fuel in orderly heaps by the back
door. And someone must put the storm windows on the house .
. . caulk around the doors . . . mulch the roses. Get a
move on! Below-zero dawns and boot-deep snow are on the
We load the pickup with gunnysacks of ear corn, haul them
to the barn, run them through the shelter, and fill bins to
overflowing with the golden-yellow kernels. We bring bags
of oats and blocks of salt home from the grain elevator in
town. We check last summer's hay and fasten down the wooden
sidewalls by the goat stalls.
"Put new plastic on the chicken house windows next."
"Right. I'm going to clean the house too . . . and scrub
down the roosts and change the bedding in the nest boxes."
"Good idea. Spread the old litter on the asparagus bed . .
. and put a blanket of clean straw on the strawberry plants
while you're at it."
And as we button up the farm and stock the larder and stack
the fuel, we also store up memories for the long nights
Memories of waist-high calves frolicking together in the
pasture . . . and moving farther each day from the watchful
eyes of their mothers. Memories of the spicy-sweet smell of
fall apples as we climb into the trees, pack the fruit into
boxes, and store them away in the cellar. Memories of the
rustling crunchy sound of red and gold leaves under the big
maples and the chattering of two blue jays in the fence
raw. Memories of a giant combine across the way as it
waddles down aisles of corn, gobbles the stalks in great
noisy gulps, and spews shelled grain into waiting wagons.
Yes, this is a busy time. A time of walnuts to be gathered
and sunflowers to be hulled. But it's also a time to just
stop and look. To just stop and enjoy.
For there are cold days ahead. Days when the skies will be
gray and the outlook bleak. And sometimes, during those
days, we'll need to look back and find that while we were
stocking our larder with the fruits of autumn . . . we were
restocking our sense of sight and sound and smell too.