October

It’s October.

As usual, it was difficult to believe that summer would ever end. And as usual, it has. First the light changes: you look out your window at a certain time of day and the sunlight is just different. It’s gone from white-hot to yellow, and the clouds have softened around the edges. The sky is darker when you leave work at six or seven. Mornings and evenings are mild again. You can hear dead leaves skittering down the street, and the wind just might be out of the north. Moods brighten. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief.
Our afternoon temperatures are still sticking in the low 90’s, but that’s going to change in the next few days. I will miss the low 90’s; that’s my favorite temperature for biking. The air feels delicious on your skin and with a little exertion you can work yourself into the kind of sweat that makes you look and feel like an athlete. Frozen ears and fingers never really do that for me. (When it dips down into the 50’s, I do believe I am freezing.)
After almost thirty years here I still can’t decide whether central Texas seasons change gradually or all at once in the middle of the night. I guess we have a little bit of both. Summer seems to linger in a long stretch of hot days; we won’t see bronze and gold foliage till almost Thanksgiving; but any morning now I’ll step out the back door and want long sleeves.
Last week I took a walk around the block to see what’s blooming. We’re fortunate to have had rain, so there will be a big fall flowering before November arrives with our typical first freeze of the season. All the bees are busy and any day now the yard will be filled with butterflies on their way to wherever it is they go.

I have to stand close to get a decent photo of my Esperanza, above, since it’s wildly spindly despite full sun. I should be grateful it’s alive at all; I put the little three-leafed thing in the sidewalk garden summer before last after we dug it up from the place in the back yard where the big steel planter box was going. Last year it only gave me one bloom but this year’s performance has made me feel hopeful. Sometimes my inability to throw away even dead-looking plants pays off.

Next year I plan to experiment with some judicious pruning (scares me just to think about it) to see if I can get Esperanza and the Pride of Barbados to bulk up into bushiness rather than staying as tall and lanky as the basketball players in my class. Many gardeners in the ‘hood have impressive results. I just hope they aren’t the result of some of those chemicals at the big-box store that provide quick sustenance while seeping into the ground to contribute to algae bloom in our creeks and rivers. With all the great resources for organic gardening we have in Austin, it astounds me to see people pouring laboratory chemicals into their yards.

What a “real” Esperanza looks like

One of the best parts of autumn is the prospect of rain. Last weekend there were a couple of gully-washers and some people not too far from us had window-shaking thunder. Either we didn’t have the electrical aspects of the storm or we slept through it, which seems unlikely. I was surprised when I got up Sunday morning to see this much rainfall. When you live in serious drought, water in a rain gauge is portrait-worthy.

Rain, Beautiful Rain

Just this morning I noticed that our Texas sage is covered with blossoms once again, and so told Floyd to plan this coming weekend accordingly. Isn’t it exciting? I don’t know whether the coming months will bring enough to save us from Level 3 water restrictions; the Highland Lakes are at only one-third of capacity. We took a drive out to Lake Travis the weekend of Floyd’s birthday party and it was breathtaking to see this once vital body of water reduced to a series of sandbars ringed by parched cliffs. I couldn’t even bear to take a photo. In any event, Level 3 restrictions would be fine by me.

The square-foot garden has been cleared out and planted with new basil, kale, and arugula. I can grow two out of three of those, anyway. Treated the new kids to water from the rain barrel, toting bucket after bucket across the back yard. My immediate plans include three more rain barrels, and I want long hoses on them. Half an inch of rain fills a sixty-gallon barrel at our house, and the City of Austin has just prohibited neighborhood associations from restricting rain barrel use. Until recently, putting a rain barrel in a visible location in our little piece of heaven has been regarded with a degree of horror generally reserved for opening a brothel next door to a day care center.

They love rain water best of all

Growing up in Connecticut, autumn meant riotously colored foliage and trips to the cider mill, where the smell of apples being crushed to pulp blended with the sweet fragrance of the cider, fallen leaves all around, and woodsmoke in the distance. I miss the redolence of that sort of autumn, but feel no urge to exchange it for the ability to plant a winter garden. It’s as if down here in Zone 8 we are spared the level of death and desolation confronting colder regions, and so October doesn’t come with that edge of looming melancholy.

It’s still a jungle down here.

Mock me if you must, but I find it amusing to take pictures of wet plants. Not sure how the backyard pomegranate can have flowers and chubby globes of fruit at the same time, but I’m not complaining. It rather captures autumn around here: a moment when both ends of the growing season are in evidence.

It looks like most of the Queen’s Tears bromeliad I divided in the spring are going to do fine, so I will leave some of them outdoors in a sheltered spot for the winter. Distributed into half a dozen pots and planters, they’re not so heavy that I won’t be able to hoist them into the little greenhouse if a serious freeze looms. The way our weather’s going, we may have no freeze at all.

The rain has quite predictably excited all kinds of fungi. Some are pretty, some are downright creepy in my book. I’m just grateful Travis has no inclination to sample any of them. One specimen quite fittingly draped itself like a wet tissue in the Queen’s Tears by the front door.

I spotted a very fluttery-looking cluster on someone’s lawn:

And here are a few tender beauties from around our yard:

Although I know nothing about wild mushrooms and give them all as wide a berth as if they were nuclear waste, taking their pictures reminded me of a delicious pasta dish I had once at ASTI (http://astiaustin.com/) up in our old neighborhood. It was fresh tagliatelle in a delicate sauce of wild mushrooms sauteed with a bit of garlic and rosemary, finished with a splash of cream. Mmmmm.

Unlike the fungi, the yucca at the end of the driveway isn’t fluttery-looking at all, of course. It looks like an assortment of vivid knives just waiting to stab you.

Oh. It is just an assortment of vivid knives waiting to stab you. How many times must I let myself be poked as I work around these guys, merely for the benefit of those stalks of white bells each spring?

Imagine my envy when I walked around the corner and saw what one neighbor’s yucca is doing even at this end of the growing season. Despite its treacherous tendencies, I may have to think about more varieties of yucca, if I have any room to plant anything next year.

On Sunday while Floyd and Travis were hiking down to the creek, I wandered over to the gravel path leading into the greenbelt, figuring I might meet them on their way back. I don’t like to admit it, but apprehension about rattlesnakes keeps me out of the woods for most of the year, especially when I’m on foot. I’ve encountered a number of rattlesnakes but never felt threatened until a neighbor was nearly killed two springs ago. I don’t know how far into the greenbelt I would have walked, thinking that snakes might be out and about in search of dry ground.

No matter; bootless, I didn’t walk very far along the gravel path anyway.

If I lived in those woods, I’d be looking for some dry ground too. It’s October: the weather could do anything now.

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