Not yet ready to close door on the glories of summer

October 18, 2003|By ROB KASPER

A MUSCULAR WIND kicked open the back door yesterday. It was a brisk reminder that the seasonal clock is ticking. The sunlight is getting thinner, the nights sharper as autumn with its list of annual chores settles in.

Even the leaves are restless. Three big ones, oak leaves I think, chased me along the Jones Falls Expressway the other day. They shot out from a Druid Hill Park grove that overlooks the expressway near 28th Street. They hovered in the afternoon air and seemed to seek my car out, like banshees swooping down on a passing horseman, running right at my windshield before diving down toward Remington.

It was a stirring, fanciful moment, a rarity in expressway existence. I took it as a sign that I probably should start raking the backyard leaves.

I have been letting them pile up, forming what I like to call a "carpet of seasonal color." It is my contention that fallen leaves are better looking that what hides underneath them, tufts of grass and clods of dirt. This excuse works as long as the leaves stay dry, brilliant and fluffy. But it dissolves as the leaves turn into a dull, gummy mass.

Each year, I put off my annual leaf raking and shredding tasks to later in the fall. I hope that my procrastination will encourage the leaves to hold color a little longer before they are sentenced to the shredder and become fodder for the garden soil.

The garden is heaving its final breaths. Plants that look half-dead are producing vegetables that look half-ripe. Again I am reluctant to pull the plug, to yank the plants up, turn the soil and send the grasshoppers scurrying. As long as there is something for me and the grasshoppers to munch on - in other words, as long as a killing frost stays away - I'll let the garden linger.

In April, when boys are playing baseball in the parks, your garden is a source of hope, a self-improvement plan brimming with possibilities. In October, when men (the wrong teams according to my heart-broken relatives in Boston and Chicago) are playing the World Series, your garden is a reality check, a long, cold look in the mirror at what has flourished and what has faded.

Autumn's colder winds and shorter days are Nature's way of pushing us in from the outdoors, of reminding us, like a mother's call to the supper table, that it is time to come into the house. Like most kids, I am reluctant to go indoors.

Inside, there are air conditioners that have to be pulled from windows, doors that should be weather-stripped, windows that should be sealed to ward off the coming cold. I will do those things, but not right away.

In October, I am not ready to abandon the back yard, to take sanctuary by the stove. Instead, I want to linger in the long shadows, appreciating autumn, until it gets too dark or too cold, which now seems to happen a little after 7 o'clock.

I am taking some measures to prepare for the shift in seasons, but they are half-measures. I repaired the latch on the back door, the one the wind kicked open. The chain latch had been pulled from the door. I filled the latch's screw holes with wood filler, a wonderful substance that heals holes in the wood. (If only there were a similar substance to heal the wounded souls of Red Sox and Cubs fans). I let it harden for several hours, then put the screws back in, tightening down the latch.

The chain on the latch allowed the door to be slightly ajar, but prevented a bullying wind from tossing it wide open. That is the compromise that the season requires. You know you have to close the door on Nature, but you aren't quite willing to close it all the way.

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