Fall is one of my favorite seasons. Spring and summer are the other two. I like the idea of winter better than the reality—visions of shushing down slopes, building snowmen, and the pristine beauty of new fallen snow lose their allure when your feet are wet and cold, the wind cuts through multiple layers of clothing, and the white snow turns to brown slush. I-don’t-like-cold.
I do like the mild temperatures of autumn. I like the acrid smell of smoke from burning leaves, the crisp, tart taste of fresh apples, and the first blush of fall color on oak, hickory and maple trees.
Fall is late in Northeast Tennessee this year. Summer was hot, for the area (not so much compared to July in Texas) and it was dry (again, relatively so), thus leaves are slow to turn, and some have simply turned loose, battered down by October storms. The mountains, visible from anywhere in Johnson City, are just beginning to take on the red, gold, and orange colors that define hardwood forests in the fall. Next week should be spectacular.
The best thing about fall, though, is harvest. It’s report card time for farmers—an opportunity to judge how well a new variety performed, how effective the latest herbicide was, and how efficiently the new combine gathered the corn. Fall comes with high anticipation if weather since spring planting has been mostly favorable, if the bugs caused minimal damage, and if rows were mostly free of weeds.
It comes with high anxiety if planting was late, the season was too dry—or too wet—or if hail storms took out most of what could have been a decent crop. It’s part of the bargain.
Autumn is busy. It was especially hectic for many this year as a lot of farmers rushed to bring in crops ahead of hurricanes, often running well into the night to gather the last field before bad weather struck.
Driving through the Mississippi Delta recently, I noticed fields of cotton, leaves dropped and bolls open, that suggested yields above average. Soybean stalks, brown and drooping from the load, promised a good harvest. Rice fields were bare, a good crop already cut and sent to market or stored on the farm in hopes of a better price.
Corn fields close to home wait for the combine. Hay has been made; several dozen round bales hunker on the treeline bordering the meadow behind our house.
My last tomatoes are ripening on the kitchen counter. I need to pick the last few peppers from my tiny garden plot. My report card says—a good year for tomatoes; peppers are below average.
And like most real farmers, I’m evaluating what I’ll do next year—fewer tomato plants, according to my wife—maybe a different mix of peppers.
And farmers across the country evaluate what worked, what failed and what exceeded expectations. It’s fall, time to take stock and make plans for the next crop.