Finding autumn joy in a granddaughter’s phone call

Sydney Craft Rozen

While my tea steeped on a recent morning, I looked out the kitchen window at a blue sky, streaked with white ribbons of clouds. Our neighbors were in their front yard with a wheelbarrow and rakes, trimming up their garden. A woman walked by, with a cocoa-colored puppy bouncing along on its leash beside her. A young dad pushed his curly-haired toddler in a stroller, and two guys in shorts jogged together in the street. I’ve watched many similar scenes in our neighborhood over the years and sometimes have been part of the background myself, kneeling in my garden, with smears of dirt on my jeans and a big smile, as I planted perennials. So I might not have paid too much attention to the sunlit scene outside my window, if I hadn’t remembered an unsettling experience in the garden last week.

I was planting flowers then, too, but wearing a face mask and trying not to inhale too much of the wildfire smoke that shrouded Moscow. Since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve worn one of my collection of face masks when I’m out in public places. My masks are sewn from layers of cotton fabric, printed with pretty floral designs. I’ll continue to wear them, without complaint, to help protect others and myself, for as long as needed. But having to mask up against the haze of smoke hovering above my Church of Dirt and Flowers — my place of comfort and peace — makes this impetuous gardener’s soul ache. I grow my flowers and vegetables for pleasure, but in my mind I could see the Garden Goddess weeping for market vendors and commercial farmers.

Weeks of stifling heat and smoke put stress on the nine tomato plants I grew in big pots on our patio. I planted several new tomato varieties, as well as three longtime favorites; used the same brand of planting soil and fertilizer, and followed the same watering schedule as in past years. The yield from each of the varieties was way below normal. The artichokes, carrots and fennel all flunked their midterm exams in July, and I’d counted on a big harvest from my tomato pals to restore my morale. There’s better news in the side yard, though. Red-speckled shell beans are growing so well that my husband, Lee, had to anchor their trellises with sturdy twine to stop the tall, heavy vines from toppling. I haven’t filed a report from the pumpkin patch yet, and I don’t plan to write about squash until October.

Benjamin BadKitten roamed far from the garden recently, when he celebrated his 15th birthday by pulling an all-nighter. When he finally rolled in at 6 a.m., I found dried leaves on his tail and scrubby tufts in his normally shiny, black and brown fur. This misadventure seemed like an unwelcome rerun of an episode from a few months ago, co-starring the same antihero. I feed a street cat that Lee named Marlon, and Benjamin seems fascinated by the big guy’s mysterious life away from us. So if the wild one offered to host an all-night bash, the birthday boy probably promised to bring the catnip. When BBK recovered from his morning-after headache, I settled him on my lap and preached a version of the lecture I’d fine-tuned when our children were teenagers. If he continues to give in to peer pressure, I warned my gently raised Maine coon cat, he could end up burning through more than one of his nine lives.

Craft Rozen loves discovering new gardens on her autumn walks through nearby neighborhoods. Email her at scraftroze@aol.com.

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