First Snow

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Something told the wild geese it was time to go. Though the fields lay golden, something whispered, “Snow.” (Rachel Field)

I wonder why I am so much more aware of the drama of the year in the Fall than at other seasons? Perhaps it’s because the ritual of closing up the garden is so much more concentrated than the rituals in the spring.

In the spring, for several weeks, I am uncertain. With the snow just melted, has my neighbor’s barnyard dried out enough for him to deliver a load of manure? How soon can I rototill and plant my peas? When will it be safe to put in the squash seeds? But in the fall, when the killing frost comes, it comes, and gardening is over with unmistakable finality. The curtain has come down on the drama of the gardening year.

After the killing frost the row of drooping pepper plants stood blackened; the sturdy-looking eggplant fell; the leaves of the still flowering pole beans turn black. Before the frost the upright leaves of the squash and pumpkin plants concealed the number and size of what lay below. After the frost the bright orange pumpkins, the big green Hubbard squash, the orange and green gourds, all lay exposed.

After the killing frost and after the major harvest, Grandson Sammy and I went gleaning. I told him the biblical story of Ruth and Boaz, and how Boaz made sure some especially nice barley was left for Ruth to find. We discovered some lovely gourds that we had missed, a pumpkin hanging on a fence, and two huge yellow cucumbers.

We were not the only gleaners. Migrating sparrows and warblers darted in and out among the weeds. I urged them to take away as many seeds as possible leaving fewer to sprout in the spring. I am their Boaz and felt good about the weeds that I had left for them. Finally, Sammy and I gathered up everything, piled it on the compost pile, and rototilled the whole garden. The gardening year was finished, the drama was over.

And yet, of course it is never over. In a sense, it has really just begun. For all of the garden produce – the squash, the pumpkins, the corn, the eggplant, the peppers, the tomatoes, and the apples outside the garden fence – what are they, but seedpods, temporary housing for the next generation.

For this drama does not really have a beginning and an ending. It is a circle that goes round and round. How wonderful to have a tiny part to play in this production that has gone on for thousands of years all over the face of the earth; seedtime and harvest, birth and death, and birth again.

Against this cosmic drama, how pathetic the little play that we humans are putting on with planes diving into buildings, and bombs dropping on the fields of Afghanistan desecrating the good earth. In the play “Green Pastures”, when the angel Gabriel wanted to hand thunderbolts to God to change the behavior of misbehaving humans, God said: “No use getting more thunderbolts. They don’t do the trick. It’s got to be something else.” That something else turns out to be suffering love.

In spite of all the foolish and short sighted things we do, the curtain will soon go up on the next act of the great cosmic drama. In the words of Robert Frost:
Always the same, when on a fated night
At last the gathered snow lets down as white
As may be in dark woods, and with a song
It shall not make again all winter long
Of hissing on the yet uncovered ground.

The snow will fall on the lovely woods of Vermont, on the remains of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and on wasted Afghanistan.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

— Edith Hunter is a writer and historian who lives in Weathersfield Center, Vermont.

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