Monday, September 6, 2010


It happened overnight, the end of summer. Suddenly we were being blown and chilled tempestuously, by winds that gusted and shifted, sending clouds racing and people hurryng to find their wool sweaters and their windbreakers. That was last Friday night, after a week of hot heavy days. I had a restless sleep, and so did many others, I gather. I've been leaving my door open all summer, the door from my top-floor bedroom out onto a small balcony. It's given me a sleeping-outside feeling, free and airy, on the hot nights we've had since June. But sometime in the middle of the night what felt like howling gales through the door drove me up out of my bed to close it, with a sigh of regret and relief, both: regret of course at the end of the soft warmth of summer, and relief once the chilly winds were shut out by the firmly closed door.

Saturday morning's early bicycle ride to the Brickworks Market was windy and blowy, and at the market people who had looked out and seen sun, but not read the paper or looked at the weather forecast online, were shivering in T-shirts - brrrr! - as they bought their bread and meat and end-of-summer tomatoes and plums, and tried to warm themselves with hot coffee. I was in three layers topped by a scarf wrapped round and round my neck, and still I was barely warm enough. But the balancing pleasure to all that cold was realising that it was time to start baking, so in went a skillet cake, this one topped with chopped peaches, chopped but not peeled. (That cake has already vanished, and a second, made last night, is well on its way too.)

Saturday evening after supper and cake with mint tea, with the winds calmed back down, I went for a walk with friends through the University of Toronto campus. It was beautiful, but empty of people, a stage-set just before the curtain rises.

And sure enough, on Sunday morning before eight, as I ran through campus, there were the first signs of renewed life. A woman walking toward me near one of the residences carrying an armload of clothing smiled at me in the sunshine as she said, with delight, "What a beautiful first day at university! She's so lucky!" She told me they'd driven in early from the Niagara peninsula to move her daughter into residence, then she carried on down the path, followed by her daughter and others, each of them loaded with "stuff". As I ran on under the intensely blue clear sky I could hear the leaves rustling, that sound that starts in early autumn as the leaves dry out in the cold. How does it happen overnight? I thought, that suddenly the leaves are getting ready to fall rather than working on photosynthesis and making life?

Once more the reminders pour in, that change is a constant, with the scales weighted on both sides, life and death, endings and beginnings of all kinds. At this time of year, as summer warmth and life is dying, a different kind of life is starting afresh for so many...

it is the start of a new year this week, not just Rosh Hoshana in the Jewish calendar, but the new year for all of us who live with or near schools or universities or live with people who are engaged with education. There's that feeling of hope and sense of optimism and promise in the air, in the voices of the students, on the faces of parents and teachers and students alike. Our four-year-old friend E is headed into junior kindergarten, wriggling with anticipation. Our friend N is starting her first year at university, delighted to be done with high school. And so it goes, in thousands of households.

For me it's a thrill every year, it's each time a fresh pleasure, to watch the new year begin.

Meanwhile in the garden my tomato plants are yielding less and less (some of them because of blight as well as shorter chillier days), though the mint and basil is still vigorous, and I tell myself each day that I must plant some salad greens (should have done it several weeks ago in fact). I found the seed packages today, mixed salad greens and leaf lettuce, and they'll go in tomorrow. With any luck there will be time before the snow falls in any serious way to pick some tender lettuce. I hope so!

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