News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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October 15, 2012

MIKE LUNSFORD: Violets in October – a pleasant surprise

TERRE HAUTE — I guess I don’t pay much attention to the weather forecasts these days because it surprised me a bit when our furnace kicked on a few nights ago. I am by nature a cheap man, which explains why I dial our thermostat back far enough that only Iditarod-worthy temperatures finally get our registers to crackle and the warmth of gas flames to flicker in our house.

This fall seems to be in a bit of a hurry. Just a few days ago, I still sported both tanned arms and open windows, yet, just yesterday, I had to move a half-a-dozen long-sleeved shirts into my bedroom closet from the one where we keep our out-of-season clothes. I have been rummaging around for boot socks and sweatshirts and flannel “leisure wear,” too, and the space heater in my bathroom has sure felt good lately.  

Autumn brings out the writer in me, it seems. There is something about crisp blue skies and brisk north winds that inspire me to put words on paper, mostly, I suppose, because I am always surprised at how quickly, and how beautifully, the world can change. One minute, I am sweating away at trimming shrubs and grabbing crabgrass by the handfuls; then, virtually overnight, I am sticking chrysanthemums in the ground and blowing yellow maple leaves off my deck, and moving potted plants under the barn’s eaves to keep them from the mean fingers of frost. I shouldn’t still be surprised by those things at my age, but I am.

I guess the first day I knew that autumn was seriously considering residency came a few weeks ago. I was driving home from work, a bit lost in my own thoughts.

The windows were down on my truck, and I was enjoying the sun on my arms, and I was thinking about what I wanted to do when I got home, that is after I had a bite to eat and a glance at the junk we still call mail. Just before I came into the little burg just north of my house, I looked to the east and saw the sun playing tag with a field that has in the past few years become overgrown with a healthy crop of goldenrod and cottonwood saplings. Those few acres literally danced with every shade of yellow and gold imaginable, and I felt better about my day then and there.

A good friend, who often writes to me, said one day last week that she was surprised to have discovered violets in her yard. “Imagine that,” she wrote, “Violets in October.” But I didn’t have to imagine it; as I pushed a mower along a hillside near my flower garden the very evening I got her note, I saw perfectly purple little violets growing there, too.  

The soybeans in the field across from us are soon to be cut, as are the fields of bedraggled corn along the roads we walk nearly year-round; I saw the dust of the combines this evening. The yields aren’t supposed to be very good this year, but they might surprise us. Joanie and I have gotten into the habit of wandering off our roadside walks into the corn, just to check an occasional ear. Some have surprised us with their uniformity and size. The stalks may look terrible — thin, emaciated things that are already leaning in the breeze — but I am amazed at how that corn and those beans could go so long without even a sip of water and still have anything to show for it.  

It may be the cooler nights, but our geraniums seem to be going out in a blaze of glory, too. I don’t think the blooms in the stone flowerbeds near our barn and in the brown clay pots just below my cabin have looked as good all summer as they do right now. I see them framed through my cabin window, and I think of an Andrew Wyeth painting that I am a little too lazy to search for in one of my art books. I know I have that picture, but Wyeth’s palette has nothing on the real thing.

I have been surprised that our dry, dry summer hasn’t cut into our walnut, and hedge apples harvest, too, but we still seem to have them both by the bushel. I have thought the trees would have conserved themselves by producing only what is necessary, but such was not the case. The grass in my yard has come back from the dead, too, resurrected by the fall rains like Lazarus. Now, it seems to be saying to me, “You’ve saved your labor and gasoline and time long enough, so I’ll make you mow until dark, even well into November, if need be.”  

We are beginning to see full fall color in our trees, and that, too, is unexpected. Most people I know who care about such things believed that our drought would lead to fast-falling piles of brown, trashy leaves, but our sassafras trees have been lit up as if covered with orange and red Christmas tree lights. Just a few days ago, my wife and I were hiking back to the house, and we saw a bright orange maple poking a glowing head up above our tree line. I can’t say I have ever noticed that tree looking so gaudy.

We’ve had other surprises: rogue cantaloupes that grew beneath the ornamental grass near my cabin, their starter seeds undoubtedly planted there by some careless bird; pine needles falling by the wheelbarrow load from a white pine that looked a little peaked and tired all summer; and, just this past weekend, a handful of warm, wet days that blew in from the south.

But perhaps the most pleasant surprise I have had thus far this fall came as I worked in the back yard a week ago. I was raking a windy day’s worth of walnut hulls and twigs off our back hill, and the breeze sprinkled me with a wonderful shower of gold and red wild cherry leaves. Perhaps I need a hobby, maybe I’m easily entertained, but things like that seem to make me smile before they take up residence in my head for a while.

On a recent night, I sat in my family room recliner, a baseball game playing on the television as I graded a few tests with waning enthusiasm. The game didn’t involve my beloved Red Sox; they didn’t make the playoffs this fall. In fact, they finished dead last in their division. Now that I think of it, that’s no surprise at all…

Mike Lunsford can be reached by email at hickory913@aol.com, or c/o the Tribune-Star at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Visit his website at www.mikelunsford.com. He’ll be speaking and signing his books at the Riley Masonic Women’s Banquet on Oct. 20 in Riley.

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