It Began At Harvest

Please Note: An edited version of this piece will be featured in the Autumn issue of Bella Grace magazine. More details to follow.

In my childhood, autumn was sweaters and boots and jeans. Sometimes, autumn was winter jackets a puffing our breath into the air to pretend we were dragons. But always, it began at harvest.

We would gather the fallen leaves from the yard and pile many of them over our flower beds. The old apple tree from the apple farm that once stood over the land that made our town would produce apples that were the size of my small fist and drop to the grass of our yard, flinging out to broken bits as my father rode over them with his mower. But they would stay there, scattered about, as an offering to the animals that came through our yard: deer, squirrels, smaller creatures.

The remnants of tropical storms would whip through the area and knock dead limbs to the ground, cold fronts would come, lumber would be delivered and dumped onto our gravel driveway in a pile taller than myself. We would stack the logs along the southern wall of our garage, longer and taller than our car, and I would traipse through the woods picking up downed branches with mittened hands for kindling.

My mother would do her preparations within the store, picking up dried fruit and cinnamon sticks, root vegetables, noodles, beef. Like a witch, she would bend over the stove stirring together beef stew, boiling down our turkey from Thanksgiving to make soup, or adding the dried fruits and berries and cinnamon sticks to a large cast iron pot that sat simmering on the basement woodstove only to waif a scent of holiday through the floorboards and into the house.

Woodsmoke hung on my clothing when I would come in from outside and I would breathe it in deeply, closing my eyes and sighing at the scent. During the deeper setting of winter, she would decorate the windows with candles and light-up icicles. The glow was calming, comforting, and reflected the sparkle of the snowflakes as they fell outdoors.

I learned the idea of comfort in dark days from my mother, whether it was literal or figurative. When I was sad, or sick, or when bad things happened, my mother would make chicken soup and fix me tea. When I was cold from the blistery outdoors and came in for lunch, there would be tomato soup and grilled cheese waiting at the table. She drew out the crochetted blanket her mother made and would bury me under it as we would watch movies or I would read books with my head set on the skirt of our Christmas tree or a favorite pillow.

It has been years since I’ve lived with my mother and during this time I’ve traced out my own interaction with the dimmer days of the year. Swedish pastries made for Saint Lucia’s Day–December 13–and lighting candles through the house before munching on tea and buns. Keeping Christmas lights on all night long on Christmas Eve and Day. Ensuring I make pies with grandma’s pie crust recipe for Thanksgiving, but pepparkakor for Christmas. Doing a massive house cleaning on New Year’s Day to start the year off right and a second thorough clearing on Three Kings Day when the Christmas tree is taken out. Then rich coffee and king cake on the morning of Mardi Gras. There are also the rich baths with bubbles or bombs of scents and books, so many books.

But it begins with the harvest. A gathering of the first autumn candles and by harvest my newest crochet project is often big enough to warm my lap. It begins with the return of soft sweaters and pausing outside on dim evening walks to take in deep breaths with my eyes shut and a gentle sigh as I catch the scent of woodsmoke. It begins then, during the harvest, when the sun dips behind the mountains early and you begin to see candles in windows.

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