Normally, we look forward to the time leading up to the holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas—the season when people need mashed potatoes to soak up gravy. Even in our carb-conscious society, the potato grader usually hums with the business of both domestic and export tractor-trailer loads.This season is different: It isn’t even Thanksgiving, and our potato storage cellars are already empty. It is hard to assess all the factors—the predominate ones being less acreage and steady sales, meaning that when it came time to store, a lot of the potential storage crop was already down the road. On one hand, it is satisfying to be done; on the other, it seems we are finished too early.
A significant drop in temperature catches the stragglers in nature’s grip, freezing them in a killing cold snap. This morning I found a caterpillar mummified in ice. I look closely and can see the crystals formed on his facial features, or so it seems. It is—I mean, was—a tiger swallowtail. I wonder but don’t act; if I brought it into the greenhouse, could it reanimate?
Some windy nights and pelting rain have brought down almost all the leaves. And now the otherwise pristine days are fraught with the sound of dueling leaf blowers. These machines are a satanic prank, a feature of supposed modernity that adds to household boredom and beltline. Fewer and fewer Americans rake their lawns, and this is especially true in Sagaponack, where leaves are treated like an embarrassment that the hired help must purge.
The Leaf Raking Guild is the autumnal incarnation of the Magnolia Gawkers Society. They hold no bake sales, they have no organizational meetings. Instead, they send smoke missives from their backyards. Members will tell you it’s the dimming of a tradition, and that the cultural implications could be greater than we know. In the short term, children won’t learn the value of a self-inflicted blister on the opposable thumb. And grown men no longer have the sensational opportunity to feel the sweat form on, and then, in dampness, chill their forehead.
Hard work, even if it is trivial yard work, has a way of awakening the philosophical quandary of “What the hell am I doing?”