“So Autumn’s not the end, not the last rung
Of any ladder in the yearly climb,
When that is deathly old which once was young,
Since time’s no ladder but a constant wheel…”
- Vita Sackville-West, The Garden (Autumn)
Vita wrote this season-long poem during World War II in England, so thoughts of death were never on her mind so much as this time of year. In trying to persuade herself (and other gardeners) that Autumn isn’t the end of the garden’s life, she is compelled to describe some of the life that seems to come most alive in this season. She goes on to observe:
“…those pure chalices that Kentish men
Call Naked boys, but by a lovelier name
Others call Naked Ladies, slender, bare,/Dressed only in their amethystine flame…”
Yesterday, it was so humid and still that Beloved Spouse predicted an earthquake. This morning, I awoke to the sound of thunder and the vaguely remembered sound of rain. We enjoyed a brief but intense thunder storm and downpour this muggy Sunday morning. Briefly, there were vast rivers in the gutters on each side of the steep street we live on.
Out the back window, the drain by my bedroom window was unable to keep up with the downpour and backed up to turn that corner of the patio into a tiny temporary lake. Pine needles were washed from the roof, dust was washed off the parched jade in the neglected east side of the yard. There was so much accumulated dust on all the trees and shrubs, and the downpour was so strong and sudden, that the water foamed up where it puddled, making miniature waterfalls on the stone steps, and whitewater rapids where small streams from my yard joined the larger streams racing downhill in the street.
Now everything looks shiny and new, as it dries. What the TV guy called a “cell” has moved on to someone else’s yard, leaving behind a sweet slight breeze and the smell of wet dirt. It’s already above 80F and muggy as hell. But the living plants look refreshed by their unexpected bath, and all are glowing with optimism as they drip themselves dry. Even the skeletal remains of my backyard naked ladies (at right in the picture above, taken a few days ago) seem happier. Just now, I walked through the yard, past the rocks steaming themselves dry. I could swear I heard the garden whispering, “Thanks, we needed that!”