Falling, As They Must

Say windfall and what’s likely to come to mind is some unexpected happening that brings good fortune. “Sudden money” perhaps.  A jackpot. The scoring of a winning lottery ticket. It’s likely too, in these economic times when strapped households pinch pennies but corporations boast record profits, that windfall is viewed as what comes to those who skirt regulations, hire cheap labor, cleverly worm through generous loopholes.

But in autumn, hike an island path flanking the remnants of old rock boundary walls, tramp across a meadow increasingly encroached upon by stands of second growth spruce, or merely drive the roads that now course past what was once apparently an old farmstead with pruned orchards, and another kind of windfall becomes evident.

Fallen apples. The drops of trees no longer tended, fruit no longer harvested for pies or cider, for putting by jam. And of less interest to people toting buckets than to swarming yellow jackets and the island’s deer timidly venturing forth from the woods. Yes, these may be the sour, bring-on-the-tummy-ache apples but with names few of us know – like forgotten Kings and overlooked Mildens – just two of the 10,000 (!) varieties that, says Downeast Food Heritage Collaborative, grew in Maine in the mid 1800s. Mention apples and more readily tripping off our tongues are the handful of varieties familiar to us in supermarkets, some grown as much for unblemished transcontinental transport as for taste or crunch.

So hand-in-hand do windfall and early autumn clarities arrive, it’s as if these freely offered apples, true gifts of the season, are more like golden reliquaries – from which pours forth this scrubbed and almost touchable cidery light. These “rivers of windfall light” as Dylan Thomas celebrates in his poem “Fern Hill.”

And let’s not confuse windfall with blowdown, the word we use when the tree itself is uprooted, toppled over, when an entire swath of forest may be prostrated by a violent wind. “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good” proclaims an old nautical proverb. But no ill winds need be behind a windfall’s abundance. Nor, even, a breeze’s merest nudge.

Apples fall as they must. Out of the necessity of ripeness. Of a requisite, not quite done-ness when apples plunk into grass or onto path or roadway -- worm-eaten, possibly smashed, fermenting and abuzz, but no matter how blemished or misshapen, juicing the soil, sweetening the earth.

It’s fall. The season of leaves falling. Of temperatures falling. Of shortening days failing to hold onto as much light and for as long. Sure, it might be hard to overlook the negative connotations of fall – Eve and the apple, anyone? Or the way, when falling, we might break a hip or crack a rib. Or the way the forgotten thing or person too often falls through the cracks. Although who doesn’t hope, at least once in life, to fall truly, deeply, in love?

Maybe part of windfall’s aim is to connect its lucky and unlucky connotations, to link the unexpected gift with certainty. For it’s certain, right?, that the apple cannot return to its stem. That we can’t halt the advance of nights dipping toward frost. And we cannot contain, stopper the bottle on this here-then-not “windfall light”. Seasons march on. Another inevitability we cannot shake, like the certainty of our shared fate – “we all fall down” the final line reminder in, of all places, our toddlerhood’s sing-song classic.

Now, though, let’s celebrate warm autumn days still reluctant to let go of summer, not quite ready to tilt toward winter. Days of cherishing light and dropped apples in our path. Each of them a windfall. 

                                A former version originally posted September 2011




They Will Come


So, September. It’s here. Days may be shorter but the golden light on a day like this one looks liquefied, as though an immense pitcher has been tipped overhead. Yes, ferns crisp on forest floors and perennials collapse in our gardens, but the maples hint at their incipient orange and apple trees thump windfall at roadside and in meadow. Once again, morning traffic is slowed by yellow school buses chugging up and down Route 15 but not by another dawdling minivan or RV with out- of-state plates.  

We’ve kissed August good-bye. But most of us have also waved to the last of our visitors and houseguests, all of whom, let’s face it, in some summers, can feel like an onslaught. As one island friend once solemnly declared, “Get a house in Maine and they will come.”

Like warriors, possibly battle weary (how many times did I warn her not to wear flip-flops on the slippery rocks?) or shell-shocked (bad enough he arrived without his wife, but did he have to confess he’s having an affair with someone at work and wanted to bring her instead?), we retreat behind our closed doors. Within the ramparts, with the moat-bridges drawn, we tinker in the garden (how did I manage to miss the blossoming of a favorite rose and when did the deer consume all my phlox?) or cook a meal for just two without factoring in nut allergies, dairy intolerance, or the dietary restrictions of Atkins, paleo and vegan. Perhaps we venture to the store with our suddenly shorter shopping lists – no need to ask: “Do you have harissa?” “Where can I find the lemon curd?” Or we sit down at our desk and stare at our computer screen, our neglected draft (why did I think introducing Aunt Sally in this chapter was a good idea?) or the book we left open – how long ago now?

We need time to resume our routines, re-absorb the quiet of our rooms. We also need to be reminded: Let’s keep this secret to ourselves – that September is really the best month, the gold-and-blue month, its days glorious, nights crisp, bugs gone, hiking trails peaceful, and farmer’s markets still abundant as berries and tomatoes are bumped aside by apples and squash. Extending the season is meant for us alone.

Oh, it’s not that we don’t love them. Mostly, we have a great time with our houseguests. They are, after all, our friends. And our family members (even if they arrive with way more baggage than what they haul from their cars). Most of these folks have been invited – unlike the couple winding their way down the peninsula and across the bridge then snaking over the causeway and knowing exactly where on 15 to turn and who, on the doorstep, claims, “We were in the neighborhood.” And oh did we mention, our packed bags are in the car? I mean, really, how subtle is: “ We thought you might have a good recommendation on where we might stay?”

Houseguests can be helpful. Some are good cooks or like to load the dishwasher after meals. They remember where the recycling bin is and offer to take out the garbage. Often they profess talents you don’t possess.  “No, no need to call the plumber. I’ve got this.” Two hours later, the plumber is on his way. Some are better at directing. As you drop to your hands and knees to sandwich in an hour of weeding after weeks of neglect, a guest appears on the deck, coffee mug in hand and points with a half-eaten croissant, “There, you missed a big one.” And why expect anything else? These are folks who back wherever they come from surely work too hard. They are, after all, on vacation – some of whom, as you hear your washing machine rev up for another load, also seem averse to carrying back with them so much as a dirty sock.

Sometimes, too, they point us toward the errors of our ways. “Really, you drink out of the tap?” “How long have you had this car anyway?” “Yes, but do you have any natural insect repellent?” Or we’re led to believe that we’ve been deprived. “Oh look, I’ve brought you a pound of coffee. Good coffee.” A grandson hopefully asks: “Do you have 4G ?” An old friend increduously exclaims: “You have 4G??

“You’re not expected to be the perfect host,” my husband Bob tells me Really? So when a guest looks up from the local paper after reading there’d been a lecture the night before, and, appearing crestfallen, accuses, “You didn’t tell me about this,” is she suggesting that even a less-than-perfect host would’ve known a woman from the Heartland who’s never been to Maine has an interest in lobster shell disease?  Bob also advises, “You know, you really don’t need to apologize for the weather.” Okay, I get this one. I cannot control the weather. But try telling that to a pair of friends who after the second day of fog and rain look at me with their expectant faces for some suggestion that doesn’t involve more galleries or gifts shops or another round of Scrabble. Regardless the weather, however, we are – are we not? – expected to know where everything is and exactly how to get there and what is open when, as if we were a bespoke tour guide. Or maybe a chauffeur – “Gee, I sure hope we can find it” – in spite of handing over a stack of highlighted maps. Bless those who, waving us off, declare, “Not to worry. We’ll find it.”

They come. They bear gifts – wine, scented candles, embroidered tea towels. What turns out to be a third copy of a book we’ve already read or another jar of fancy mustard. We dig deep to find creative expression in our thanks – “Oh, how clever!” – for whatever else has been emblazoned with moose, lobster, or lighthouse. And who am I to ever turn away good coffee?

They come. They sign the guest book, effusive in their thanks and their use of exclamation points. They send a thank you note and post photos on Facebook. They email their next summer’s schedule and the dates in which they might be able to squeeze us in.

They come. And we love that they do. Really, we do.

But in September? Ssh, that’s our little secret.



Summer's Over. Almost. And Too Soon.

Adapted version of blog originally posted in August 2010.


From June solstice until September equinox, summer lasts only 91 days. Back in early May, it seems like so much time. Summer then is capacious. Stretching out before us, its arms are open wide to good intentions. Here at last, we tell ourselves, is the one summer we’ll made good on our promises. We’ll deliver on our plans. But the more we get into it, summer gets smaller, shorter, so unlike winter, the long winter that’s looming and too soon on the horizon.

By the end of August, the days shrink with less light. The sun retreats behind the Camden Hills before dinner guests move on to dessert. Ferns crisp and goldenrod blooms. At the farmer’s market, apples bump aside berries. Lobstermen haul traps further out, as shedders, hardened up, move into deeper water.  On Route 15, a few roadside maples sport hints of orange. Suddenly, June’s timelessness vanishes. In our memory’s eye, the 4th of July parade is a meteor that once streaked across the sky.

In these final summer days, I can’t help but assess. What, I wonder, of those new hikes I’ve yet to take, the books to read, recipes to try, people to meet? What of the constellations that this summer I pledged to learn? Or the pile of granite cobbles I thought for sure I’d transform into something attractive for the garden? And in the garden itself, why weren’t the hydrangeas transplanted into a bigger bed or a new trellis erected for the sprawling climbing rose? Wasn’t this the summer I planned to learn, really learn, how to sea kayak? And where are all those poems I aimed to draft? The letters I’d actually, in a throwback, pen? Or those solo picnics I’d take down to the shore? Didn’t I promise myself more afternoon hours sprawled in the hammock with no other place to be?

How easy to lose and overcommit time in summer. One too many houseguests. One too many concert or theatre tickets purchased. One too many dinner invitations extended or accepted. As the late-in-the-season cicadas thrum out the last of summer’s days, it’s easy – too easy – to count up our regrets. To weigh and assess. To consider what, with another season’s turning, we’ve let slip past.  

For the lobsterman, farmer or inn keeper, summer is the “make it or break it” season. For them, it’s the season of economic necessity. Mostly, for the rest of us, for those retired or able to work year-round via Internet and phone, the summer is the season of promise. Of brimming opportunity. Summer the season that in June holds forth so much fullness.

But maybe what we reach for in summer, what we try to make of it, what we promise ourselves to do with it, is, in some small way, a throwback to childhood. To a time when summers were long and the future distant. And when, possibly, summers were actually, well, a little too long. When, come August, we got a little itchy. Pre-Facebook and smart phone, pre-car pool or two-plus car families, we missed our pals. And whether we knew it or not, many of us missed the familiarity of small desks and wide school corridors. As we spilled from sweltering classrooms in Indian summer with daylight still lingering on, enough to get in a few innings or laps on our bikes, time seemed so much sweeter than it had all July and August.  

Back then, as summer simmered back to its end, we may have whispered, if only to ourselves, “Yes. At last.”

Translated now to: “No. Not yet.”