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This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills. Autumn has come to the Ozarks. The change in the air tells us more surely than the date on the calendar. ‘Tis the season of harvest and of loss, endings and abeyances, clothing that was proper for the heat of summer now slid to the side on the closet rack, making way for the colors and fabrics of fall.
As always at this time of year, my thoughts turn both outward and inward, out to the fields and forests where the last bounty awaits; and inward to the deepening of thoughts and messages contained in the waning light, the tempered warmth and the lessening of days.
The apple harvest is in full swing at area orchards, and fresh cider has arrived on the shelves at the grocer's, while homes that have apple trees or access to them are awash in the scent of apple butter, apple pie and the clear jars of apple jelly, like summer sunshine stored on the shelves.
For those of us who can look beyond their gnarly shapes and weathered skins, the splendid bounty of hard pears from old Ozarks pear trees is also a gift, and in some homes, mine included, the choice is not between pears and no pears, but between pear smoothies, pear jam, which is called pear honey for its taste, and the rows of little jars filled with what looks like nothing other that canned little slices of the crescent moon. i'd like some of each, please.
It's the lovely season of the tree fruits, those we cherish and those that go unnoticed. I'm in the rare position of having one end of my car thumped on by black walnuts falling and the other end being whacked by falling buckeyes.
The walnuts are a chore to crack but worth their weight in gold, while the buckeyes, I mean, what do you Do with them. Back in the days when we relied more on nature's bounty than the wonderful world of chemistry and petroleum byproducts, buckeyes were ground to a paste that was called, aptly, library paste, and used to repair books. Now, they're mostly in demand by squirrels, who find them a tasty and easily shucked alternative to the walnuts, whose hard green husks are still firmly attached, and are almost surely evil-tasting and besides, they turn their chins black.
Buckeyes are unappetizing to humans, so since the chinquapins are mostly gone, we'll wait for the walnuts or find some excuse to wander south a ways in search of those fat southern pecans.
Actually the wise foragers know the local pecans, while smaller, are rich in flavor, and it's remarkably hard to worm the location of the best trees out of those folks, although sometimes a trade will work.
For instance, I have a source for red fall raspberries. But I can't think of anything more delicious this time of year than those, so I probably won't be trading any. In fact, it was probably mean to bring it up.
And then there's persimmons, those wonderful red-orange globes so delicious after a frost and so deceitful, looking ripe long before they are, and offering their own mean trick instead of a treat for the unwary. But we love them anyway. One of my favorite things on early morning autumn walks, is to search for persimmon trees, which on misty fall mornings are sometimes so full of fruit they can turn the very air around them into the incandescent orange of small, glowing suns.
Autumn, here at last, and never more welcome than after such a hellishly hot summer as this has been. Certainly the months past have been hard for other reasons than the heat, with jobs and homes lost, the economy in tatters and dissent everywhere you look.
But for me, on reflection, the best antidote to the dark thoughts that can certainly arise from dwelling on the times is to choose to dwell instead on how reliable is the inevitable turning of seasons, and what that means; how each turning offers a new view as it casts aside the old.
Time passes, and with it the passing of things, conditions, and of those we love, or in some instances those we hope to outlast.
As someone who is now experiencing another corner turning, from middle age to what's termed the elder years, I must also acknowledge that the view from here is at once daunting and still full of promise. I, too, am coming into the autumn of my years, and I daily find reasons to treasure the experience, mostly.
Yes, the body continues its journey, becoming more frail and yet not so much, really. And the person who abides there seems most days to be at once more forgetful and more aware, more appreciative, more alive.
Aging is a metaphor, of course, one perhaps more easily seen in these ancient hills that have seen more seasons than a human can imagine. You don't think so? Imagine, then, the world before there were forests of oak and hickory, when the springs were bubbling pools of lead and zinc and the mountains were tall, majestic, and utterly alien. We can't.
These forests were here to welcome the first tread of a human foot, the first population of elk and otter, the first harvest. The seasons were here long before us, and will far outlast us.
What a recurring revelation, that these mountains' heart will continue to beat, long after ours come to rest. Seasons, like problems, and persimmons, and people we love or endure, will pass, as will we.
Here lives the promise of these Ozarks Hills, that they will ever await those who will come after, bringing new growth after the rest and renewal of winter, ever flowing into a summer of abundance and trial, toward yet another season of harvest.