In search of story


Putting by, part one

Do you know about “putting by”? The animals do. The mornings now sparkled by frost, winter looms nearer, and the beasties know that food is everything: eat, drink, and put by.

The nimble bee in the October garden feels the urgency.

As the marigolds crinkle into seed pods, he twists among the petals, seeking summer leftovers, some for him and some for his family, no doubt. I picture tiny Mason jars put by in the hive, and I am transported immediately to our old fruit cellar.

It was a ghastly place, closed off from the basement by a wooden door straight from “Alice in Wonderland”; as you stepped up into the cellar through that shortened door, you became instantly too big and had to duck to avoid concussion from the ceiling. A bare lightbulb with dinky chain hung about two feet from your forehead. Straight ahead, a window with a murky view of grass. To your right, shelves with Mason jars. To your left, a cramped subterranean dungeon with neglectibles and more shelves. Another bare bulb. Jaundiced newspaper shelf-liners. Crawling things with many legs. It was damp, cold, and creepy.

Everything Mom and Grandma put by was kept in the cellar. Thus the rows of home-canned green beans and freestone peaches, the beans a putrid don’t-eat-me color, and the peaches ever summery. You may believe that absolutely nothing erases the memory of green-beans-gone-bad in a creepy fruit cellar. Putting by had its risks, both gastric and visual, and, for all its virtues of frugality and (usually) flavor, home-canned was not mourned when it gave way to store-bought — not in our house.

But there was more to putting by. Another post, another day.



It’s happening. The crickets and cicadas are outsinging the birds. The river birch outside my kitchen window is changing its clothes; it will, as always, cast off the green and try on gold but opt in the end for bark naked.

Marigolds kindle the garden border with a ruddy glow that makes me think I could warm my hands over them. The sun and all the best reds in the crayon box blaze in those little boutonnieres. They are proud of their colors; you can tell.

The herbs elbow one another, crowded now. They wear miters of seeds atop their skinny heads and offer up pungent incense. Nose nirvana.

The dill explodes like fireworks, lime-yellow flares brightly bursting over its green feathers, thick with homey fragrance. A stout Pickwickean bumblebee is busy in it, balancing his girth with easy grace on the airy flower heads. He does not look up at me; he does not have time.


That is the thing measured in the garden. It is time for green to go to gold, time for birds to pass the baton to insects, time for herbs to don seed hats, time for dill to crown the late summer.

Exactly twenty gazillion writers have said all that. And to this overwhelmingly predictable body of farewells to summer, I want to add my hooray. Yes, hooray! My half of the year is coming! It isn’t that I love cold and dark — I don’t — but that I love the long evenings and short days. I love closing the blinds and turning on the lights. Time seems held close then. Thoughts, less rushed, seem clearer. The power to warm is more important than the power to cool. Inward becomes easier than outward. Home is nest. I look forward.