Adjustments for a New Season

August is about to wave ‘bye’. This month can be up and down and it has. I always look for the speck of autumn that is waiting on the other side of the Catalina Mountain range. I have written about this before, either in poems or essay. On Monday, the 21st when I let my kitties out early, the air was slight. Not heavy with the humidity that the recent half-hearted rains brought in. The impression was like a light step, bouncy almost. These mountains rise willfully to the northeast above the neighbor’s wall and a large Mesquite tree. This early Monday I noticed clouds were barely visible, snuggling up against the lower ridges of the mountain base.

I track this first sighting each year because, in my book, this is a simple ‘remark’ from Mother Nature that autumn is tossing us an invitation. High heat will roll back in for a few days, then wave ‘bye’.  Temperatures begin to edge down, the light begins to change, and the character of fall picks up its step. The sky is no longer blanched looking like faded talcum powder. Blue begins to bite back.

Fall has been my favorite season since the very first time I can remember, perhaps at the age of four when my brother and I first sat on the front step of our parent’s tiny house in the country after a long summer of play and other activities. Mom pulled either a sweater or lightweight jacket over us to go outside.  

Dark-weighted maple trees began their shedding one or two at a time and shortly by bucketful’s. Our collie was alongside my brother and me wherever we explored.  

Down the hill, across a small ‘branch’, up another hill sat mom’s youngest sisters’ two-story farmhouse. Mom forbade me to go alone or at all without her, but guess what? I went alone, climbing over barbwire fences, splashed across the ‘branch’, up through a few of my uncles’ beehives, and into their big flat grassy yard. Their leaves were falling also, trees taller than ours and much more to rake up or blow away. All five cousins were bunched together in a room reading, and napping, or the three oldest ones outside running wild. I spent many hours while we lived side by side at that house, upstairs, and downstairs, laying under the large oak trees reading books on a blanket, sneaking across the gravel road to the barn, stained to the neck picking blackberries and the laughter of our folks playing cards in the kitchen.   

Another sign that fall had landed is when mom moved the double wash tubs back onto the tiny back porch. There went our ‘poor man’s swimming pool.’

Our heat in Tucson is having its last hurrah and knows it. I have begun to sort out the empty pots where plants could not keep up with our summer heat, ordered a Home Depot reward points card to use at their nursery, and made a list to ‘re-do’ for the upcoming autumn parade. Once I jotted down my ‘cloud watching’, it motivates me to begin a big switch-up of cooking styles. I immediately pulled out my autumn recipes because I just can’t wait to filter through the flavors of fall to put on the table. I jumped the gun and decided to begin early.

Apples! – a must in fall cooking. Apple Hash is a superb accompaniment to a citrus herb glazed porkchop in cast iron.

2 Tbs grapeseed oil

2 cups thinly sliced Gold potatoes

1 cup thinly sliced red onion

Salt and pepper

2 cups cored and sliced Granny Smith

1 tsp Tabasco

Heat a large skillet (I use cast iron) over medium-high heat. Add oil. Add potatoes, and cook, stirring, 6-8 minutes until golden brown. Add onion, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the onion begins to caramelize. Remove, and keep warm. Add oil if needed, then apples. Cook for 4 minutes, until apples are cooked. Add potatoes and onion back in, add Tabasco, and stir.

Thank you for reading the last post for our month of August and thinking about your autumn ideas. Would love for you to share.



September – November

Today is the last day of November, representing for me the last day of autumn from three glorious months. Another farewell to fall. Although a few leaves are still rustling themselves from my one tree, the neighbor behind has two oversize Mulberry trees that are just turning. Fortunately for me, the wind usually blows them right into my raked yard. Does that count for extending my autumn?

Recently I pulled several photo albums off the shelf that was my mother’s. She had dozens of shoeboxes full of photos that had not found a home in her albums. I made that an early task after I brought them all to Arizona, to fill those empty pages. In thinking of fall, my grandmother had large oak trees on two sides of her property. In these pictures are many snapshots over the years of those trees. One is of my dad in his Navy uniform on an early chilly winter day, another of my son at four, raking and burning leaves with great grandma and step grandpa.

Another of my uncle in an army uniform holding a transistor radio. He was Grandma’s youngest and only boy. Of course, she spoiled him. But my point is never can I travel back in time without Grandma’s home, her gardens, her large yard, her daffodils, and her playing the piano or reading, to which these memories dominate my seasons.

The shoeboxes of photos were a treasure to draw from when in the workshop where I first met my soon-to-be, lifelong writers group to date. Until this class ‘writing from photos’, I had no idea what lay hidden. As I say goodbye to autumn, here is one of those poems.  

Autumn 1962

Under a broken sidewalk,

    roots of aged maple and oak trees

    crawl. Evening red, summer gold

    and slumber brown leaves smolder,

    raked into a pile.

Overhead, the winter sky approaches,

  the last of the leaves have vanished,

  their ashes rise sooty, sugary

  and damp.

Grandma grips the rake,

  fire glows in her eyes and

  under the leaves, embers

  burn her skin and presses

  against her stockings.

A photo is snug in her apron pocket,

   her only son, barely a young man,    

   stands below this tree’s molten red leaves

   like lava, waiting to say goodbye.

   His shoulders newly wide enough

   to carry the weight of his Army uniform.

Years ahead, she watches from the door,

  lends a hand and leans the rake against the

cold bark.

   Her black glove dangles with a hole in

   the right thumb, the last of the leaves,

   the last of her autumn held tight within

  her sigh.

Autumn Stepped Through

Each September, I watch to the northeast from our yard in Tucson. Why? Waiting for autumn. The hint for me is when clouds begin to lay low and crawl at the mountain base. I can immediately feel a change in the air. Our summers are brutally hot, washing the sky to a faint white during the day. Yet, if you are an early riser, mornings are the best to hike, bike, garden, tar roofs, build homes, or whatever your fancy may be. I can only speak for myself–heat kills me during the summer, and I get extremely cranky. To add to that, and I will fess up–I am not an early riser. Pooh on me.

This summer we were blessed with more than usual monsoon rains. They danced around, across, and back again, even today, rain shadows behind the Catalina, along the Tortolita to the Tucson Mountain ranges. Clubs of clouds rise tall with power, others flatten out in gunpowder gray and the air picks up. Autumn has teased wickedly and openly all through September and lingered at October’s door. Last Tuesday on the fourth, Autumn stepped through.

As a kid in the Midwest, fall was full. Full of arts and crafts festivals, fall drives, the annual antique road show that stretches for miles along Spoon River, endless miles of crackly cornfields ready for harvest, hay rides, apple orchards bursting to be picked, and pranks. In Chapter 2 of our book, my story of tipping outhouses, a generational legacy, always came in the fall. Why? (Here is that question again)…because.

In Tucson, the teasing of autumn has kicked out the 100s, allowed the 90s, and paved the way for low 80s during the day and low 60s at night. Shortly, the Arizona Ash and Mulberry trees will begin to change clothing as the temperatures slide easily downward and closet the green and bring on the gold, red, and orange. Strings of thin cobwebs will crisscross in the air, the slant of the sun lower and longer, rays like a soft down comforter.  

Colors of amber and spice creep out of cupboards and pantries, maple, pumpkin, salted caramel, stews, and rising bread, apples cooked down for applesauce, butter or jelly, sliced up for pies, and tossed into Saturday morning pancakes. Crockpots and recipes, family familiar or new experimentation, all in the palette of fall.      

It is our season, our time, our patch of autumn. I will visit with autumn and you again in my blog to share a favorite recipe and perhaps, another teenage prank not mentioned in the book. There are quite a few.