I said last week that the hills look like mountains of Fruity Pebbles, and they do, but there are still green pebbles in among the red and yellow ones. But it seems like every day there is less green in the mix. On campus, in the wooded areas, and the woods around the campus, the trees seem taller, more open. Not only are some of the leaves gone now, but with so many of the other leaves gone yellow, the canopy just seems to glow. The avenue of red maples by the Dining Hall has, despite the name, turned mostly yellowish orange and the fallen leaves on the ground and the leaves still on the trees together make the road there a kind of tunnel, so bright you have to look away. The evergreen rows on the other side of the Dining Hall, by the Mansion, the rectangle of spruces and pines and hemlocks, is changing, too. Of course, they are evergreens, but the older needles on the white pines have gone yellow and are falling, a messy, itchy-looking thing, like the coat of a shedding dog. More dramatically, there are two species of birches in there, the yellow and the black. The yellow birch always stood out, for its bark, but just a glimpse, here and there. Now, with both species of birch turning this lovely pale yellow, they blaze like gold in the dark, green heart of the other trees. And still there are flowers—I never thought of this before, but there are fall flowers as well as spring ones, the goldenrods, the asters, the wood-asters…I’m always looking things up in my field-guides now.
But with all these fall leaves there is one thing rather conspicuously not happening; no one is raking up the leaves. Charlie says that the best kind of mulch is what plants produce themselves. When I repeated what I'd learned when I worked for the landscaper--that diseases and pests hide in leaf litter, Charlie pounced on my comment as though I'd made his point for him.
"Exactly!" he crowed. "Leaf litter supports bird food!" When I still looked confused, he tried explaining from another angle. "We're not in the business of growing trees here, Daniel. A tree, all by itself, is useless, just like a man, all by himself, is useless. It's relationships that matter, and for trees relationships begin with the soil. The fallen leaves tend that soil and shelter new plants coming up and the cocoons and insect eggs, everything that will eat the tree and feed the birds next year. Clear all that away, and the tree has no past and no future."
And yet I've seen Charlie top-dressing the ornamental beds with composted leaves. I've seen Sarah's farm fields mulched with leaves. Turns out, those leaves come from off-campus. The school has a deal with some of the neighbors, people who live up and down the main road that goes by campus, to pick up their leaves. They rake it up, and a couple people go down there with the horse cart and big, burlap bags and pick them up. It's interesting to think how much of what we use on campus was somebody else's waste. Donated horse manure helps build up our soil, donated fry oil becomes veggie Diesel for our vehicles, and road-killed animals help feed our dogs and cats--and sometimes us. Rick has brought road-killed meat to Paleolithic Dinner several times. I'm not sure if the road-kill thing is legal, but no one seems concerned about that here--one more reason for the perpetual secrecy and privacy of campus. It's like they don't think what they do here is any business of the law.
It’s getting colder. This week isn’t so bad, aside from being very wet, but last week was very cold and next week is supposed to be as well. We haven’t started any of the wood stoves yet, but it’s cold in the Mansion in the morning and I’ve started sleeping with my hat on again. We haven’t has a hard frost yet, and the farm is still producing like crazy, but Sarah’s crew is busy building these low hoop things across a lot of the rows, I’m not sure what they’re called, to protect plants from the frost. The greenhouses are all planted for the winter now, ready to start producing the fresh greens and carrots we’ll eat in February.
And meat is back on the menu in a serious way. We were mostly vegetarian over the summer, except at Paleolithic Dinner, but besides my deer Charlie has killed several more, plus Sarah decided to kill two of the older sheep and one goat. Joy said they might not make it through the winter, being fairly old, and Sarah decided she’d rather eat them than buy hay for them. They don’t slaughter in batches, though, the way I’ve heard most people who raise animals for meat do. The issue is we don’t have freezers and they don’t even run the refrigerators most of the time. So they kill one animal, we eat as much of it fresh as we can and they smoke or dry the rest, and then they kill another. It’s sort of an odd thing, going to pick up dinner and finding mutton sloppy joes or whatever else and knowing that means one more animal you’ve actually seen around campus grazing is dead.
They’ll keep going much of the fall, I’ve heard, killing off extra lambs and kids before they’ve eaten too much hay, so we can have sausage and stew in the winter. They just did the surplus chickens yesterday—those do go in a bunch, because they’re so small. The whole campus together can eat a lot of chickens in one or two sittings. It’s weird, before I came here chicken was such an ordinary, not-special thing to eat but until today I hadn’t eaten it in months. Unless we want to eat off campus, we get chicken just three times a year. I can’t say I feel as much sympathy for the chickens as for the deer, but then I never had to kill any of them. I never had to feed or care for the chickens, either.
But aside from fall in the forest and fall in the barnyard, there is fall at school. We have winter off rather than summer off, and it’s sort of strange to think that the school year will be over in a couple of weeks, at the end of October. Samhain, November 1st, starts winter here, of course. So people are walking around talking about what they’ll do over the winter, who’s staying on campus and who isn’t—we’re allowed to stay through, and of course we yearlings have to stay because we still have morning meditation and weekly group therapy to go to, but a lot of the senior students don’t. For one thing, that’s twelve weeks of room-and-board fees that people who leave don’t have to pay. It will be a strange campus, with no classes and few students. I’ve even heard most of the masters either leave or keep to themselves.
Everything’s pretty now, with the leaves brightening like fire and everyone hurrying to finish up the work of the semester, but it will be a quiet, lonely place with the leaves and people and so many of the animals gone.
[Next Post: Friday, October 11th: Arther]