Joyce Bupp, farm wife

Darkness still enveloped the farm when I stepped outside to the porch that morning before breakfast. The cold air that smacked me in the face felt a bit like a dash of icy water, shoving away any lingering traces of sleepiness.

The end is near. For sure.

Just a day earlier, a potentially violent storm front had pushed almost tropical-like temperatures across the farm, galloping toward us on low, gray, ominous clouds and scattering erratic showers over the area. Eventually roaring, thundering and downpouring on its journey over us, the storm dragged behind in its wake dramatically tumbling temperatures.

Our area has been blessed through this autumn with lingering, summerlike balminess. In fact, just a day earlier, I picked a half-gallon or so of small tomatoes and several peppers, warmth-loving vegetables usually history in our garden by the end of October. The continuing pleasant weather had even inspired me to weed out some of the thriving smartweed and foxtail that had invaded the fading veggie garden, hopefully eliminating oodles of their seed progeny before they can take root next season.

My four brown hens that pal around together and tend to turn up to keep me company wherever I’m working outside, reveled in “helping” with garden cleanup. They squabbled for the over-aged tomatoes I tossed their way, and chattered companionably while scratching in the loose, moist soil for the treasure trove of seeds and bugs.

But now, the nasty storms that had pounded the area dramatically enhanced the “end is near” expectation. Brown, yellow, orange and red leaves that had been clinging to their parent branches through October’s pleasantness now lay tossed and scattered across the landscape, littering the porches, piling up in soggy clusters along the field road and decorating the woodlot floor with a temporary colorful carpet.

On the heels of blustery storms tossing about wind and rain, the colors of fall were short-lived. Even the slow-turning maples were showing their yellow hues, and already dropping a plentiful amount of leaf litter to pile up with the fallout from hickories, locusts and wild cherries.

Stubborn black walnuts that had steadfastly clung to their twig homes added to the season-ending fallout, finally surrendering to gravity in the wake of the strong winds. They mingled with an array of bare, reddish corncobs littering the field road, scattered earlier by the combine as it chewed through the cornfield below the house. Navigating through the combination of round walnuts and cylindrical corn cobs underfoot creates a walking hazard if one doesn’t pay close attention to where one is stepping.

Tall, soggy zinnia stalks leaned this way and that, weakened by moisture and elbowed sideways by the chilly winds that pushed the storm away. Many of the plants sported plastic-like cases containing praying mantis eggs, so the faded stalks will go into a pile behind the fence, where the mantis egg cases can safely wait out the winter months. Those large, fierce predators eat a lot of “pest” insects and the eggs of their next generation need every bit of protection we can give them.

Twenty-four hours later, the tomato and pepper stalks drooped limply, stalks of late yellow squash lay blackened, the dahlias were totally dilapidated and delicate pink rosebuds sagged on their stems. A hard frost had ravaged all the tender greenery, covering the lawn in glittering whiteness and freezing over the dish of water left at the porch for the critters.

Under a brilliant sunshine that rose over the frosty morning, the day warmed with mixed emotions. Sadness tugged at me, because the growing season for all things tender was finished. At the same time, I’m filled with gratitude for the bounty that the season produced.

Thus, the end is no longer near. The end is here.

At least the extra hour of sleep we got helped to cushion last weekend’s seasonal reality check.

Joyce Bupp is a freelance writer in York County, Pennsylvania.