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Autumn in the Ozarks

Fall is a special time in the Ozarks and in this month’s installment of These Ozarks Hills, Marideth Sisco reflects on what it means to reap what you sow.

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. The seasons have turned a corner this week, and we've had to say goodbye to another summer, at least according to the calendar. The autumnal equinox is just past. I always have trouble adjusting to that, because here in the Ozarks the weather is likely to remain balmy well into October – or not. Even though the equinox signals a balance between daylight and dark, it doesn't seem balanced. The weather here is always full of surprises – a fact that's easy to forget, when you're entranced by the beauty of the season. It's a reminder to get ready for that sudden shift - a blast of wind straight out of the north, or a sneakily quiet star-filled night when the bottom drops out of the thermometer and we awake not just with cold feet but with the sickening realization that the houseplants – grandma's begonias and all – are still out there on the porch, uncovered. Then there's the wild harvest that if you live in town you're liable to miss altogether. Of course, the black walnuts are pretty widespread. But blessed indeed are those who have a source for hickory nuts, pecans or persimmons. Or fox grapes, or hazelnuts, or the almost nonexistent chinkapins.The wild Ozarks is truly bountiful just now. It's led me to considering what my particular harvest amounts to.I had hoped to be able to provide a potato report for you this month, because the ones I lamented about last spring seem to have done really well – I think. Trouble is, of course, I got them in so late, they're not finished growing. I've been out in the patch practically every day tapping a toe, waiting for a sign they're ready to come out. Part of my impatience is because I want to plant my garlic there, and I'd like to get it in and settled before really cold weather. But there's another motive, I must confess. I wanted to tell you about how many pounds of potatoes I got from the seed potatoes I grew and the ones planted by friends. You may remember if you're a regular listener that this past spring, before I discovered I needed surgery, and through a combination of miscalculation and blind-sidedness, I ended up with 30 pounds of seed potatoes that, due to the surgery, I couldn't plant. I couldn't even get the garden tilled. Everyone I knew was shaking their heads over the predicament I'd gotten myself into. I thought a little boasting about a splendid yield might be fun, at least for me.But the 'taters won't be hurried, so I've had to stop and reflect a little. And what I've come to is this. I could tell you that with the help of some kind friends I planted X pounds and got back Y pounds in return. And someday I may do that. But there are other things that flourished in this spring and summer of my debility that are equally worth mentioning.Because some friends hauled straw bales and rabbit manure to my home, and helped me move heavy bags of planting mix, and carried away some of the potatoes and raised them for me, and tilled my garden and helped me fill containers so I could plant the rest, I have already reaped a bounty of friendship, not to mention the tomatoes, chard, peppers, green beans, eggplant, and way too many cucumbers for any reasonable person to know what to do with. My daily mantra had to change. I'd been saying "Just get me through this day." But when I looked out on my little garden I had to say "I am blessed beyond measure." You can't measure that by the pound.So like any gardener, I'm going for the practical approach. I'm making pickles. Bread and butter pickles, with a little curry added. Since there's no way to say thank you enough times to enough people, I'm gonna let the pickles be sweet for me. It'll take a lot of pickles. I told the cucumbers that. They responded with a bushel of hefty green blimps. So I'm all set. Just chunk them up, salt them down, add some ice, steep overnight and throw in a pot with sugar, vinegar and spices. And then let the scent carry me back over the years to when I stood on tiptoe watching my aunts and my grandmother do the same. It's all good, this Ozarks life. And it's the best time of year – a time for pumpkins, and persimmons and hazelnuts and all the rest of the wild harvest. And for us, too, to reap what we have sown, either with our own hands or those of the ones we love. I heard another mantra, that seems made especially for this time of year in the Ozarks. It goes like this:All the way to heaven, is heaven. All the way to heaven, is heaven. This is Marideth Sisco for These heavenly Ozarks Hills.