A Splendid Day for Fall Cleanup

(Originally published in Main Line Life 12/03/08)

A splendid autumn day to be working outside in the yard. It is cold but the sun is out, a pale watery sun that lacks the intensity of the summer sun. Nevertheless, it does cheer, and provide some needed warmth.

There is much to be done. Patio furniture must be either put in the garage or pushed under the cover of the roof. Cushions need to be wiped down and stored in protective plastic bags and also lugged to the garage. The barbecue – scene of many a delicious summer cookout – is a grimy, blackened mess. I pretty much disassemble it, hose off the worst of it, then bring the parts indoors to be scrubbed off and put in the dishwasher.

I detach the front and back yard hoses from their wall spigots, and try to coil them as neatly as possible in their storage units. Luckily those have wheels, and I awkwardly steer them into their place in the garage also.

The Halloween pumpkins I dragged over to the side yard last week have been decimated by squirrels. My husband’s vegetable garden is but a ghost of its former self. I already pulled out the dead cucumber and squash vines a few weeks ago, but the cherry tomato stalks in their metal supports still need to be yanked out. My husband likes nothing better than to stop by his garden on his way home from work and eat those cherry tomatoes, warmed by the sun, right off the vine.

A brief rest, and then on to the pots on the front porch and back patio. A few hardy flowering plants survive – the ones that are in direct sun – but even they look like they are on their way out. I ruthlessly pull them out by their roots and toss them in the mulch bag. By the time they die the dirt will be too frozen to remove them, so it must be done now. I do allow a few pots to stay clumped by the back door – a miniature rosebush and some faded hydrangeas.

This is the biggest job. Emptying the topsoil out of the numerous pots (it seemed like such a good idea in the spring to have this many!), knocking the dirt off them, and then lugging them to the garage, where they will stay stacked until spring. The concrete floor of the garage gives off a kind of cold that you feel up your shins, and I hurry to get out of there and back into the lowering sun.

Another break; a mug of hot tea and a Godiva chocolate bar. My reward.

The last task awaits, but the chocolate has revived me. The cord of firewood that we had delivered a few months ago must be moved from the side of the house to the covered patio, near the back door, where it will be easily accessible. I always say I’m going to wait and have it delivered and stacked right by the back door after I have cleared the patio, but I can never get the timing quite right. I always end up moving it.

Moving the firewood is one of those methodical, mindless jobs that you can perform without much thought, allowing your thoughts to wander. I use heavy work gloves, and change into some work boots in case I drop a log on my toe (I have done this in the past.) After becoming bored with my own aimless thoughts, I go get my Walkman and listen to NPR as I work. Back and forth I trudge, stacking the wood neatly in rows. Eventually the pile by the back door gets bigger than the one by the side of the house and I feel like I am on the home stretch. My shoulders, back, thighs, and even my forearms are sore. Still I plod along.

The sun suddenly disappears behind the tall trees of my neighbor’s yard. The gloaming, I say to myself, one of my favorite words. The air is colder too now, but I am warm, even sweating, from my exertions. The patio needs to be swept, but that will have to wait. It is too dark, and I am done. With every passing day now I am reminded of the march of days toward winter.

I stack some wood by the fireplace in the living room, and build a fire. A glass of red wine and an Advil, and I wait, as night falls, for my husband to walk down the driveway, home to me.

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