I love the Fall. The light no longer harsh and demanding. grow, Grow, GROW!!!! All Summer long the sun burns down on us. Fall the sun shifts and reflects light across the yard. Flashing on new colors in the landscape, red, copper, gold, bronze, yellow, orange. I love the change of temperatures as much as I dread the coming cold. As much as I love the heat, it is nice to have a little variety. Just a little.
And here at the edge of the world of seasons as people up north see them, it is autumn. On Pine Island we had changes in the season, but they were too subtle for most of the outside world. To us they were as obvious as the fish and shellfish we caught and when we ate them, when the mangoes were ready to be picked and when strawberries were fresh grown in Plant City; when people were living in their winter homes and when they had gone back up north to their summer homes. Snow birds.
Thursday night Judy came by and we drove to the Waukeenah Methodist Church's Mullet Dinner. We drove down the empty Highway 19, south to another State Road Highway with the only cars on it either coming home from work or on their way to the Mullet Dinner. Judy looked over at me and said, I see why you enjoy this car. Nora Jones crooned from the stereo.
The toy slipped along the roads, the wind blowing past us the sun setting, the air cooling, the light reflecting early autumn. Friday, the end of the week. The weekend beginning. Two friends in the moment, participating in the ritual of fall in this little community. The timing was perfect. The politicians were smiling and looking people in their eyes as they talked about the weather as the line moved swiftly from the area to pay through the food to the drinks and to the tables or out the door. Friends from all over the county driving to this little church each fall for the ritual of fried mullet. The same menu I have eaten this time of year my entire life. First at the fireman fish fries as a child then frying the mullet that Larry netted off the dock from the canal behind our house; now as a woman who is about to turn 56, I eat mullet in this landlocked little town north of the Gulf, not west. But the ever present Gulf still giving its bounty each fall, mullet. Smoked, fried, fish spread, mullet.
And the Waukeenah Methodist Church Fall Mullet Dinner does not disappoint. There are huge paper plates, not styrofoam, loaded with fillets of fried mullet, a back bone snapped in two if you ask for it, yum mm, good eats. Then hush puppies, baked beans, cheese grits, home made pickles, cole slaw and your choice of so many choices of luscious decadent desserts. I chose the coconut cake.
Judy and I parked and walked passed all the other parked cars, up the steps to the rec hall and paid our $10 a plate, such a deal. Then waited in line smiling and yelling hellos to friends and neighbors. We smiled and commented on the competence of our elected officers, making short compliments about our friends present. "She has such a talent for growing things", "Have you seen the quilt she is working on? Lovely, and her corners, so sharp", "Look at those two, they have been married forever", "Oh, don't they look good?" and so on as we wait for our turn in line. Then you walk along on one side of the counter, the servers smiling and waiting for direction on the other. "To go please" "Yes, May I have a backbone?" "Yes, on both plates" "Grits? YES: Beans? Please; Cole Slaw? Yes Mam"; "pickles? The sweet ones, please (they are the ones that are homemade)." Then it is time to stare down at the small plates of cupcakes and slices of cake, pie, cookies, brownies, oh my! The choices made, the drinks filled and we head back to the car. Stopping to chat and "Bless your heart" as we go along. We decide to move the car with us because I know I am bringing home a pumpkin and I am not going to want to carry it. So we drive up to the pumpkins and hop out. For a small time patch there is a lot of variety here. Smooth ones, bumpy ones, blue, white, every color of yellow/orange/red imaginable. From the most giant to the tiniest sugar pumpkins, sitting up on palates and piled in the grass. Boxes of gourds that resemble shells and space ships. Sugar pumpkins small and round, perfect for baking.
I say life is pretty fine on a clear cool autumn evening, walking through a pumpkin patch with a friend I have known for so long. And yet this is the first pumpkin patch we have walked together. She picked out 2 smaller ones with beautiful bent stems. I picked out a middle/large one that is cream with spider webs of red, yellow, orange and green giving the pumpkin a psychedelic look to it. It is self pay and we stuff our money into the pay box nailed to the pine tree. Then we carry our autumn bounty back to the toy where our mullet dinners await.
We drove home in the darkening evening. A beautiful fall evening in a small town in north Florida. A small community that still waits in lines for mullet dinners, that has a self pay pumpkin patch. We laughed on the drive as we commented on how lucky we are to live in this beautiful place. Beauty in nature and in human beings. A bounty of riches, mullet, deer, turkeys, pumpkins, vegetables of all kinds. Kindness and compassion, traditions. And I thought, how lucky am I that Judy and I should both end up retiring to this community, separately each seeking out this place to settle and assimilate back into a culture that feels as deep as our DNA.
This morning I woke to another glorious day of fall sun shining through the trees in my front yard. A perfect day for a motorcycle ride or a drive in a convertible. I drove up to Golden Acres Ranch with the top down and met Isabelle who already had the booth set up for our Garden Circle. We are selling the Atlas Gloves to raise money to send kids to the 4 H camp. It is the Annual Farm Tour in Leon, Jefferson and Gadsend Counties. It is a wonderful day. People can drive from farm to farm and learn all about the wineries, organic growers, lamb and sheep farmers, and all the diverse agriculture industries we have here in these north Florida counties. Golden Acres owned by Fred and Bobbie Golden is one of the best to go to, and if you are local, you might want to consider taking in this free tour. 10:00am - 4:00pm today and again tomorrow.
At Golden Acres you will be able to take a ride sitting on a bale of hay on a trailer pulled by a tractor as they circle around and through the farm looking at all the varieties of goats and sheep. Back at the house chickens wander through the crowds watching for any stray tidbit to be carelessly discarded. There are areas where you can see how wool is taken from the sheep to a blanket, buy meats locally grown like goat and lamb, eat a hot dog and buy organic produce and persimmons. There are artist and musicians, and of course, our Garden Circle.
It is always fun to watch and listen to the local "city folk" as they call themselves. They are amazed by the chicken coop and living surrounded by animals. Laughing at themselves as they are starlted by a peck of a hen or a crow of a rooster. "Doesn't he know what time it is?" "Yes mam, he does. Rooster crow all day long, and some during the night, not just in the morning." "Oh, that is noisy" "yes mam, nice huh?"
I ran into an old friend who also now lives up here. He is a persimmon grower and gave me a bag of his golden treasures when he found out I liked persimmons and that I had Stage 4 Lung Cancer. Now, I did not know he grew persimmons until after I had already told him about my cancer. So I had no way of knowing that he would be so generous to give me a bag of persimmons. But it was very sweet and generous of him and his significant other to give such a precious gift. I had brought bars of the soap we had made the week before at Garden Circle. The ladies were pretty excited. And when the next shift came to replace those of us from the morning, I looked around me again and felt so thankful to have been a part of this celebration of agriculture and Autumn. I always wanted to be a farmer, and now to live in this place so centered around agriculture and movinng throughout the year as the seasons shift and the Autumn full moons float over the cooling earth. A season for everything a time and a place for all things.
And people seem happier and calmer who participate in these rituals of the seasons. To take time to gather and share the bounty of this beautiful place. Both from the land, the water and the sky above us. A time to prepare for the cold long winter. Not unbearable here, but the landscape goes stark as energy builds up in the roots, preparing for the Spring and the push to reach out and up and uncramp the long hibernation out of our bones and branches.
I feel a sense of belonging when I stand in line to get my mullet dinner. When I make change for someone buying a pair of gloves that I actually use and believe in myself. Humans reaching out to each other coming together. As animals have their natural instincts and know when to fatten up and when to hibernate. Our DNA also seems to remind us of a time when we had to prepare for the change of season. And even though now we can run to the store for anything anytime of the year. It just seems that those who participate in the change of the seasons, who change their diet to match what is locally available at different times of years, and to meld into the traditions, cultures and instincts of the seasons, just seem to be healthier and happier. I know I am.
I picked this community to retire and grow old in
And when I was sick
and now that I still have cancer
So many people are so generous here
I feel right
I feel like I am in the right place for the right season of my life
The fall years of my life.
I may not have many years in the winter of my life
but that is yet to be seen
for now, I am happy to enjoy this time of the year
and this time of my life