My mother read Little House in the Big Wood to me when I was tiny. Tucked into my twin-sized bed with a line of stuffed animals peeking out from under the covers on both sides, I’d stare at the cover of the book–a sketch of Laura cradling her baby doll–while my mother read through the tale. The idea that all of that had been real, that pioneers and cabins, and the woods dark and deep had existed was enough to spurn many dramatic recreations in the safety of my playroom or yard.

Even now, as I enter my thirties, I think of the book often when summer begins to slip away. I’ve been set into a rhythm since childhood of gathering and preparing for winter once September strikes and it’s taken me this long to realize that maybe those days of pioneers aren’t that far behind.

As a child, I did it with mindless pride. I was proud to be helping my parents but completely oblivious to the greater good it provided. I would help my mother rake up the leaves and plant bulbs for the next spring and sit on the deck “helping” to keep an eye on my parents on the roof of our home as they cleaned out the gutters and made sure the chimney was cleaned through.

Through out the summer as I would run and play in the woods I’d keep an eye out for any fallen trees. No one knew who owned the woods, to our understanding it was freestanding woods that acted more like a border between homes. The deer, coyotes, and foxes called it home but would be long gone when my friends and I would go stomping along during an intense game of Pocahontas. The wood was old though, with trees still remaining from when the land used to be filled with farms and apple orchards. Many of the trees had disappeared already, but a few remained, and some were even older. Large boulders had been built to separate the different orchards and every now and then you would find a tree that the walls had been built around. Now old and rotten, it would end up on its side, bringing part of the wall down with it, but I would see the tree and my eyes would brighten.

I’d give my father a report as fall was settling in and off we would go, sometimes at the start of autumn and sometimes later, to march through the woods and find twigs for kindling and downed trees for firewood. It was cheaper than paying for firewood and I felt that thrill of having a little house in a big wood.

By the time I was older and more interested in gardening, we were living in Pennsylvania and surrounded by farmland. It was easy to tell the time of year based on what the crops were doing. Christmas trees would be chopped down and leave in droves by mid-October. The corn would be tall overhead and still green at the start of September but cut down shortly after or left to dry out in preparation for feed.

And my mother and I would remain at home, monitoring the sky and the weather, waiting for that first inkling of frost. Before it would come we’d gather the tomatoes still on the vines–green or not–and take them indoors. The green tomatoes would quickly go into paper bags and the red ones would be sliced and placed on sandwiches. We would tuck blankets over other plants as the frost took hold with the hope that it wouldn’t eat away at the flowers, that we would stretch them out a little longer.

When I moved to Northern Virginia, everything was provided to me. A metropolitan area with shops everywhere to provide you with what you needed–there weren’t any farms to be seen that were tending to crops, there wasn’t a tomato plant to care for.

I was focused on getting a job, focused on finding a way to pay for the general ins and outs of my life. I lived in a place where the closest grocery store was three miles away–not far at all, but an incredible distance if you didn’t have a car as I did. I made sure to cook the various meals that I always cooked in the autumn, but it wasn’t the same and it remained foreign and odd until two years ago when I moved in with my then-boyfriend.

At first, it was a pipe dream, “I want to get some herbs. Maybe a tomato plant.” It was October and we were in the middle of painting two large rooms. We had the windows open fully to get the walls to dry at top speed and were sitting on the floor that was covered in plastic. There were no herbs to be had. The tomato plants were ending their season. But I wanted them, to continue that production of creating my own possessions to gather.

By spring we found ourselves at a garden center, looking over options of different herbs and tiny springs of tomato plants.

At this point, we’re two summers in with planting vegetable plants on our slim porch. We only get about 6 hours of daylight for the plants and yet they’ve taken off. Tomatoes, peppers, rosemary, sage and thyme. The plants have reached six feet in height, the number of tomatoes are too many to count, and now I’ve begun my weekly watch of the temperatures as I wait for that first frost that will someday come.

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