RFD Maine — The Last Rose of Summer
Ever notice how most of us hate to see summer go, but do everything in our power to hasten the onset of spring? But of course the great wheel of the seasons turns at a set speed, one that remains well beyond our ability to change or manipulate.
This time of year for me seems rather bittersweet. The idea of candlelit nights at the table, warmed by a wood fire while playing soft music on my Irish pipes and whistle, laughing with friends and perhaps quaffing a few dark ales or even a Guinness Stout has much appeal. But yet the end of the growing season, when nature appears to go on hold and life dives underground for a long winter’s sleep, makes me melancholy.
But someone once said that it ain’t over ‘till it’s over and that seems more apparent to me each year. As of now, grass remains green, in fact much greener than it was in summer, thanks to autumn rains. Songbirds linger, even warblers that probably ought to have already made the trip south. And a few plants grow in gardens, unhurt by recent hard frosts.
Swiss chard, for instance, not only stands firm against the Frost King’s onslaught, it even has the temerity to put up new growth. This it will do until continual sub-freezing temperatures force this tenacious beet relative to call it quits.
Carrots and parsnips, two root crops that can remain in the ground all winter without harm, give me hope. I can see myself in these hardy plants. Old, with their growing season behind them, but yet defiant and undaunted by their current situation.
Here’s an interesting note for those who yearn for the first dandelions of the year. We have another six months before springtime greens become available, but we don’t need to wait that long. After several hard freezes, which have already occurred, dandelions lose their inherent bitterness and become sweet and mild once again.
So go out and dig a mess of fall dandelions. Relish them, because once the ground freezes, even these sturdy wildlings will be placed out-of-bounds. But for now, enjoy.
I love fish and eat it several times a week. And if possible, I prefer to catch my own fish rather than buy it. But fishing season has ended, hasn’t it? Not quite. Some trout fishing remains in several local rivers, thanks to a new set of fishing regulations. And even some saltwater fish become available now.
Specifically, harbor pollock flock to protected coves in October and November. There, they swarm around docks, floats and piers. When pollock are in, anyone can easily catch great numbers of them. The daily bag limit, imposed solely to deter commercial fishermen from using these smaller versions of deep-sea pollock as bait, dictates that we keep only six fish for the table. And six fillets of pollock, fresh from the sea, suffice to make one elegant seafood dish when rolled in flour and spices and deep fried.
Here’s something that other people besides me must notice or at least think about. It concerns the last date when we can comfortably drive along in our cars and trucks with the window rolled down. By October, such days seem far and few between. Consequently, every time a southerly flow brings a batch of warm air to Maine, we wonder if this is the last one for the year.
Ditto for leaving doors and windows open. Comedian Jeff Foxworthy had a joke that went something like this. “If you run your heater in the morning and your air conditioner in the afternoon, you just might be a Mainer.”
Foxworthy has excellent observational skills, of course, and he nailed that one directly on the head. And yet, we all know that each warm afternoon at this time of year may be the last for a very long time.
As a boater, it seems frustrating that we pay big bucks to register a boat for such a short boating season. Consequently, a few of us forego putting our boats to bed for the winter and instead, take them out as long as weather permits.
Going out on a lake or pond in a boat now seems almost like trespassing. The water has acquired a dark, almost black hue, probably due to tannin staining from fallen leaves. Pond lilies, pickerel weed and arrowhead, or Sagittaria, have all long since succumbed to the frost. The pond seems sterile.
Gone, too, are jet-skis, water skiers and speedboats. The water has become too cold for such activities now. With such noisemakers no longer on the scene, a quiet serenity settles in, seductive and comforting.
Most notable, summer camps have their doors barred, windows shuttered, packed away for another year. Something about that makes me sad. And yet, I relish the sensation.
All these things come as a sign of not only things to come but also, things on their way out. To me, the last rose of summer is most fragrant, the dearest one of all.