After the Blossoms are Gone: A Gardenerís Melancholia
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 1, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Over the years, many gardeners who live in areas with distinct seasons have written and spoken about their melancholic moods during the fall. In writing this article, I'm no longer an exception. I came across a quote recently that really spoke to me about this issue and is, I think, worth noting here:
"Autumn's melancholy is...nostalgic, revealing time's passing, revelling in loss. It is legitimate lamentation, admissible misery, where the passing of Summer's effusiveness can rightfully be a cause for sadness.... Decay, mould, collapse. Dead heads. Autumn's poignancy is so-called ‘proper mourning', where the subject accepts the passing of the object, and is able to resolve this loss, accepting that it ‘no longer exists.' ". (posted by Jacky Bowring at blog.com)
I was particularly struck by the fact that this quote comes very close to describing my own feelings and experiences. I'd like to share with you a poem I wrote some years ago that not only reflects one of those blue moods, but also addresses the resolution of loss mentioned in the quote. I take the process a step further, though. I reach beyond accepting the loss as something no longer in existence to making that loss a positive memory in anticipation of the next growing season. See if you agree:
But a pale shadow of its
leaf askew and seed head heavy,
the garden hunkers down
to brace itself against the bluster of
cold and ice that is winter.
Was it not just yesterday that I
caressed the soft-petaled rose in passing?
Savored the sweet scent of honeysuckle
drifting over the sill?
Plucked a determined weed amidst the
I can still hear the cicada as it
drones its raspy song from a nearby oak, still
feel the heat of the sun-baked soil on
my bare feet, see
the firefly in my mind's eye as it
performs for me its luminous dance
on the breezes of a soft summer night.
These are the treasures of summer
that shall sustain me, that I have harvested
against the coming chill, until
once more the brightening ray
brings news of earth's awakening.
© Larry Rettig 2005
Unauthorized use prohibited
The poem unfolded quite unexpectedly in my head one late fall day as I was walking along the banks of the Iowa River during my lunch break. I don't know exactly why it came to me. I certainly wasn't making a conscious effort to compose a poem, and my mood was anything but chipper!
By the time I got back to my desk, the poem was complete. I typed it into my computer, still mystified by this amazing experience. I noticed that my mood had mellowed considerably. Then I realized that the closing lines of the poem already reflected the onset of that mood change. The memories I had of our beautiful summer gardens had become treasures to sustain me rather than memories that made me sad. And the reminder that another growing season was on its way was exactly what I needed.
I keep a copy of this poem not only in my computer, but tucked in the folds of a fall gardening journal, and in a closet containing my winter gear. All are locations where I'm bound to run across it sooner or later. And it always brings a smile.
I'd love to hear of your own experiences. If you care to, you may leave me a note about them--or any other comments you'd like to make--in the space provided below. Please contact me if you'd like to copy the poem.
Spring is just around the corner. Happy gardening!
© Larry Rettig 2008