Friday Matley guards our green tomatoes

Friday Matley guards our green tomatoes

What a week. First, Sunday’s “fall back” time change left me confused during the day and marveling at the early nightfall. Then came the first hard freeze that turned the tomato plants into black slime and prompted an immediate harvest of the survivors. The next day, skirts of golden leaves encircled the roots of our now-bare black locust trees.

Call it what you will- -autumn, harvest, the icy core of Dante’s version of Hell. The season has definitely changed. Boom. Just like that. The forced air heat came on by itself two nights ago. Was it just last month that it seemed impossible for the temperature in the house to go below fifty degrees? Suddenly we’re watching the gauge on the propane tank like hawks, dreading the day it falls below 20 units when we’ll have to call for a fill-up. Ah, but what would the pioneers have done? Who cares? I’m cold!

Actually, the pioneers probably had a lot more fun in the fall than we did. Harvest was over. With luck, the cellars and attics were full of provisions to see them through the winter. Some neighbor with a big barn might throw a dance, not just the pay your five bucks at the door of the local watering hole to listen to a mediocre “classic rock” band, but an all-day, all-night event with food and friends and a chance to exchange a summer’s worth of gossip. Sure, the creek that supplied their water might freeze over, but they’re not on their hands and knees like we are, digging out the dirt that gophers crammed into in the lawn irrigation junction boxes. I mean, let’s get some perspective here!

For me, the onset of fall comes back to tomatoes- -boxes and boxes of green tomatoes. Until they rot I’ll baby them along, turning and inspecting them every few days and shuffling the ones that show an inclination to ripen into paper bags to speed the process. The neighbors will begin to lock their doors and pretend they’re not home when I come by with the latest batch of green tomato chutney. By the end of the month, I’ll be secretly wishing that the little buggers will turn squishy and moldy overnight so I can throw them away (the tomatoes, not the neighbors).

Face it, growing vegetables is not for sissies. Nature is a necessary but uneven partner that invariably supplies too much of some things and not enough of others. This summer was crazily hot and dry all over the west; now El Nino blasts through from time to time and here in Prescott, WA we are grateful for the drenching of 1.25 inches in four days. You can almost hear our pasture sighing with relief as roots uptake water and new green blades multiply. Even the wheat farmers are smiling a little bit.

Writing isn’t for sissies, either. There are long hours of work underlying every victory, and it’s not a complete stretch to compare the seemingly capricious tastes of the publishing world to the whims of nature. Still, I’ll keep writing, and I’ll keep growing vegetables, too, because every so often there’s a bumper crop that someone’s happy to see.

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