Long-time readers of this blog may recall that just about every year I post my favorite literary descriptions of my favorite season — autumn — many of them from one of my favorite authors, Laura Ingalls Wilder. You can see previous choices here, here, and here.
One of the reasons I do this is so that I can remind myself that the seasons are changing and that autumn is indeed a beautiful season, even if you have to look for it to find it here in California, where the year-round weather can best be described as warm-but-not-hot and cool-but-not-cold. The mild climate makes for comfortable living, but sometimes the seasons have a rather uninteresting sameness to them.
Despite the fact that the calendar says autumn has arrived, the temperatures in the Bay Area this week are supposed to be in the 80s, which seems hot enough for summer to me. Even though Autumn officially began on September 22, my hibiscus plant, a sign of high summer in other parts of the country, did not get the memo:
And the Japanese Maple tree in the backyard has only just been notified that autumn may indeed be around the corner. A very few leaves are turning colors, but not enough to convince me it’s autumn:
No matter. Undaunted, I decorate my home with various things to bring the feel of autumn into the house, since it can not easily be found outdoors.
(Do not pay attention to the tacky silk flowers. I am too busy to water real ones on a regular basis.)
(Plastic faux fruit is also tacky, but it does bring nice autumnal hues to my living room. Don’t judge. I’m a bookseller not an interior decorator.)
A welcoming fall wreath on our front door. This one’s made of real oak leaves.
And now we can get to the matter at hand — 2012’s Best-Loved Description of Autumn! This year’s selection is an excerpt from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little Town on the Prairie, the chapter entitled, “Snug for Winter”. If you’re looking for autumnal evocation, for something to make you feel warm and cozy, you can’t go wrong with a title like that.
In this chapter and in this particular book, the Ingalls family is preparing to move from their homestead on the prairie into the little town of DeSmet, South Dakota for the winter. After the previous, extremely harsh winter caught the family unprepared and almost caused them to starve to death, the family has decided this year to winter in town and to move there before winter actually arrives. (See the book The Long Winter for that harrowing tale of . . . well, of a really long, very cold winter on the frontier.) The houses in town are of sturdier (read: warmer) construction, and supplies for the winter can be more easily replenished than out on the cold, desolate prairie. School, another harbinger of autumn, has just started for Laura and her sister Carrie:
All through the pleasant fall weather Laura and Carrie were busy girls. In the mornings they helped do the chores and get breakfast. Then they filled their dinner pail, dressed for school and hurried away on the mile walk to town. After school they hurried home, for there was work to do until darkness came. Saturday was a whole day of busy working, in a hurry to be ready to move to town. Laura and Carrie picked up potatoes while Pa dug them. They cut the tops from turnips and helped Pa pile them in the wagon. They pulled and topped the carrots, too, and the beets and onions. They gathered the tomatoes and the ground-cherries.
All day long while the girls were in school, Ma made preserves of the red tomatoes, of the purple husk-tomatoes, and of the golden ground-cherries. She made pickles of the green tomatoes that would not have time to ripen before it froze. The house was full of the syrupy scent of preserves and the spicy odor of pickles.”We will take our provisions with us when we move to town this time,” said Pa with satisfaction. “And we must go soon. I don’t want another October blizzard to catch us in this thin-walled little house.”
“This winter isn’t going to be as hard as last winter,” Laura said. “The weather doesn’t feel the same.”
“No,” Pa agreed. “It isn’t likely this winter will be as hard, nor come as soon, but this time I intend to be ready for it when it does come.” He hauled the oat straw and the corn fodder and stacked them near his haystacks in town. He hauled the potatoes and turnips, beets and carrots, and stored them in the cellar of his store building. Then busily all one Monday evening and far into the night, Laura and Carrie helped Ma pack clothes and dishes and books.
Whatever temperatures autumn brings to your part of the world, I hope you’ll join me in marking the change of season. What’s your favorite description of autumn?
See you in the stacks!