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by Margaret Hartley


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Ideas on greener living

October harvest

When it wouldn’t stop raining last week, my husband called our sister-in-law in Florida to ask her for a weather forecast.

Well, that was his excuse for calling the house he used to live in. Our Internet hookup never works and he needed someone else to see when the rain would end.

Our sister-in-law was happy to check for us, to delight in the dour forecast and to complain that it’s too hot in Florida, a comment that did nothing to cheer my chilly husband. “I can’t take the winter. It’s already too cold for me,” I heard him say.

Poor Floridians. They shiver and shake when the temperatures dip below 60. And when they have been transplanted to northern New York, like my long suffering husband, they have months and months of complaining to do.

They complain so much they miss out on the delights of October, which both northerners and poets have revelled in for ages — the changing sky, the beautiful colors, the sounds of geese and, yes, the nip in the air.

“Fresh October brings the pheasant/ Then to gather nuts is pleasant,” wrote Sara Coleridge in a poem I committed to memory as a child. I think of it this time of year, when I see flock after flock of wild turkeys along my road in the mornings. This must be a bumper year for turkeys, or perhaps for the acorns and hickory nuts they find so pleasant.

“All things on earth point home in old October,” Thomas Wolfe wrote, and that sums up the month for me. Come home, come indoors.

There’s something about October that feels like home to me. Our outdoor work is slowing down, so we shift our focus to indoors: hang curtains, wash the windows, and then seal them against the winter winds. Last week I start painting walls, which I know I should have done in the summer when the windows were open, but who wants to be inside in the summer? And who wants to stare at dingy walls in the winter?

In October we, like the wildlife around us, are gathering up our stores and stashing them for winter — the firewood, stacked in the basement and around the sheds; the potatoes and squashes, cleaned and stored in baskets and feed bags; the summer vegetables, in jars and freezer bags. It gets dark early, so our evenings are more homebound, sitting around the wood stove to read, bake, eat and talk, listening to the owls in the woods.

During the day the squirrels are gathering and stashing too, the chickadees are busy stealing seeds from the sunflower heads we’re drying, and the deer are helping themselves to what’s left of the kitchen garden. Like the turkeys, they’re eating as much as they can while the eating’s good, fattening up for the lean months ahead.

We feast too, celebrating the end of the harvest. The first weekend of October we point pretty much everyone on earth to our little home to share what we’ve spent the summer growing. This year’s harvest feast featured a summery salad of tomato and basil along with all our fall vegetables: potatoes, pumpkin, winter squashes, onions, kale. Because despite my husband’s complaining, there’s been no real cold snap yet, no killing frost.

That’s unusual for us. The cucumbers are still growing, when usually this time of year we’ve pulled up everything but the coles from the garden — the Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli and kale. Those are still growing but, remarkably, so are the eggplants.

I don’t see what the Floridian has to complain about.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

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