Thursday, September 29, 2016

“When The Frost Is On The Pumpkin”

“When The Frost Is On The Pumpkin”
            “And the fodder’s in the shock.” James Whitcomb Riley, the “Hoosier Poet”. He wrote in dialect and I loved it. I memorized that entire poem in southern Indiana hillbilly style in third grade at Elizabeth. I like to think I was more in love with the season than the poet. No matter where I’ve lived, autumn has been special to me.
            That is, until I got to Mexico. In Mazatlan, on the coast of the Sea of Cortez, with desert a mere short drive inland, where I lived two and a half years, I could barely distinguish one season from another. Summertime brought torrential rains, short lived, usually at night. Summer was green. Winter tended more toward a lesser green with speckles of gray-brown.
            Here in Etzatlan, snugged against the hills in the high Sierra Madre valley near Guadalajara, summer is officially over; the rainy season has drifted away until next June. Corn stalks zoom even higher than elephants’ eyes. By the end of October, men will swarm into corn with machetes and stack the fodder into shocks. Cane reaches upward visibly day by day. Peppers soon will be ready for harvest and shipment all over the world.
            I’ve always been an avid weather watcher; too many Montana years where weather personified is a psychopath which might turn on one in a heartbeat. I’ve lived in many places but Montana is always “home”.
I’ve been in Etzatlan seven months. It’s the beginning of fall and I’m trying my best to find the errant season. Spring, March and April, were hot and dry. That is all messed up! Summer hot and wet with cool nights, ideal. I keep looking for signs of the fall season according to those which I remember best. None have appeared. What I do find baffles me.
            A huge tree at the corner of my garden resembles a floral umbrella, vibrant green leaves patterned with orange trumpet-like bouquets. Plants and bushes which bloomed in the spring are again in bloom, some for the third time. My bottle brush tree is full of red brushes and hummingbirds. How do they do that? Some never stop blooming. Like the lilies. And the roses.
That’s another thing. What are roses doing in this sub-tropical region? Brought here by gringos, no doubt. Yet every vivero (nursery) has a selection of roses. Leaf-cutter ants feast on my roses. These voracious critters form an assembly line and strip a rose bush in minutes. I’ve timed them. Once roses have been reduced to naked stalks, they turn their attention to the young oleander and baby hibiscus I just planted. To stop them I’ve, with requisite guilt, resorted to sprinkling a vile yellow powder while wearing rubber gloves and a face mask. I boil my body afterward.
I’m harvesting my first limes from the baby tree I planted in April. Oranges are forming on my new trees, barely as tall as me. I’ve no idea if they are in season or out of season. What is the season?
Canaries are returning from the north. I’ve seen the first two pairs this week. Ha! There’s another returned bird searching for bugs on my brick wall. He is a variety of woodpecker, the size of a chickadee.
And the “sheets” are back. They weren’t gone long. I call them sheets because this butterfly, the size of a saucer, floats in the air like a bed sheet on the line, gently shifting in the breeze.
Breeze? That’s another difference between here and there. The weather forecast this morning predicted winds from two to four miles per hour. Two to four? Is that measurable? Any self-respecting Montana wind would sneer at such a wimp.
Real winds, when they happen, seem to foretell incoming rain, whipping with intensity for ten or fifteen minutes. Then the wind falls off, raindrops start, the wind moves the clouds on over to the neighbors. I’m just describing what I’ve experienced.
But it is only the end of September. Maybe frost will rime the pumpkin yet. My neighbor told me last year one morning in January the top of his car was covered with frost. Big whoop, right!
I can still recite Riley’s entire poem and if I close my eyes, I can see the changes, smell the season. Birds and butterflies are great. But I’d love to see the gathering of the elk at Slippery Anne. I may have to get a ticket home.
Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
September 29, 2016

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