Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Change in seasons

Here in Western PA (West Pennsyltucky for my friend Rick Allen of Maryland), we are blessed with all four seasons. Sometimes in the extreme - summers can be mild or hot as hell. Winters can be mild, or we can have -22 degree nights and snow measured in feet. Fall, however, has always been my favorite.

Right around this time of year, the signs of autumn begin. The leaves are just starting to change, and soon will be in their full painted-canvas glory... to be enjoyed for a couple weeks if a huge windstorm doesn't blow them down. Folks from other parts, in fact, drive here to western or central PA to view the leaves on the mountains.

The nights cool off after still-warm days. Today, for instance, was sunny and about 76 degrees at its warmest. Tonite, however, will dip down to about 52 - wonderful sleeping weather. It's the time of year when you need to run neither the furnace or the air conditioning. The temp in the house is comfortable 24 hours a day. That nip in the air causes folks 'round these parts to look into the sky as if reading some type of annual sign, and say, "Hhmm. Football weather." I think that phrase is passed down through generations like a favorite recipe.

And the smells - you can smell those leaves. If I went into a coma for 20 years, and was blind when I woke up, all I'd have to do is smell the outside air here and I'd know it was sometime from mid-September to mid-October. No doubt. Some folks are also beginning to burn their fireplaces and woodburners at night - meaning you can smell that wonderful, sweet aroma. I caught it when I took the garbage out tonite. One of the many Amish families that live all around me must be burning wood tonite.

Fall is also marked, for me, by the shift in my household chores. Over the past few days, I tore down my 1500-sq. ft. garden, always a sign for me that the end of summer is near. The tomato plants were dead and over, and so was everything else except the pepper and cabbage plants. The cabbage is about ready to pick, and I'll be harvesting peppers for another week or two. The garden, which was a sign of growing life and expectations of harvest several months back, is now a mostly-empty patch that soon will be covered with snow. My mom, who passed away this past February, loved the cucumbers and tomatoes that I grew. This was the first growing season without her, and every time I worked the cukes, picked one, or enjoyed one in a salad, reminded me of her. Simple things like the garden kept her memory alive for me, just like so many foods and other familiar things remind me of family and friends past.

I also started moving and stacking the firewood this afternoon. I buy hardwood by the tractor-trailer load and throughout the summer cut it and split it. It's great exercise, and a terrific way to heat the house in winter. We have a modern woodburner built right into the electric furnace, and we burn wood as much as possible. Excepting the cost and time that we put into the wood, we are able to heat our 2-story 4200-sq. ft. home for about $30 a month, on average and even during the coldest months. I figure - why give the money to the electric company - and as I said it's great exercise getting it ready. My dad and I cut and split wood for his fireplace and woodburner when I was a kid, so it's an activity I've long enjoyed. And considering the Cap and Tax the cretins in Congress are instituting - doubling and tripling electric rates because of a "global warming" that doesn't exist except in the inexplicable mind of Al Gore - it'll save even more money. More money to put into Civil War research!

I was raised very Italian, and in my family all the men cook. Today, I do most of the cooking and always have. My dishes always change when autumn rolls around. This week I made my homemade chili, always a winter favorite. Another is cabbage and ham stew, and several other dishes made usually only during the cooler weather.

And this is also the time of year I start digging into whatever will be the next book. I enjoy writing over the winter months, and it fits well with the summer marketing season. If I can finish a book by January or so, then it's on schedule for editing, etc. for a spring release. I wrote most of the text of The Complete Gettysburg Guide in front of the fireplace in our living room - fire blazing, wood crackling and popping, one of my wife's crocheted blankets over my lap on which I rested the laptop. Our little dacshund Buddy curled up on my stomach. Steve Stanley and I have begun work on our next one - a guide to the 1862 Maryland Campaign - and I'm sure I'll work on it mostly in front of the fire. I had actually planned to begin early, this past August, but my nearly month-long illness precluded that. Concurrently, I'm also working on the script for the audio tour that will compliment the Gettysburg guide.

Soon, the snow will begin flying. I hate it by the time January/February rolls around, but that first snowflake we usually see around here in late October or early November evokes admiration from most folks. Hey, it snowed last night. Winter's comin'. Wonder how bad it'll be? Well, they say a bad winter this time. Or - They say a mild one this year. I don't know who the hell "they" are, but those folks seem to have an opinion about everything, don't they?

Next spring, the process starts all over again. The air will warm and the sun will get higher even while there's still snow patches on the ground. I'll start tilling the garden, eager to get the tomato and cucumber plants in. I'll think of Mom and how she loved them. I'll start wearing short-sleeved shirts even while the temperature is still in the 50's, just to let Ol Man Winter know he's not welcome anymore. And a whole new season of visiting Gettysburg and other historical sites, talking to folks about this passion, and perhaps anticipating the release of another book will all be just around the corner.

That reminds me, time to get back to writing. C'mon, Buddy, time for us to hop in the easy chair in front of the fireplace. I'm not building a fire tonite - not yet - but I'm sure he'll understand.


  1. Outstanding post, J.D.! Very well written.

  2. Great post.

    As The Band said: 'Now I don't mind choppin' wood, and I don't care if the money's no good
    Ya take what ya need and ya leave the rest
    But they should never have taken the very best'