I felt the first rustle of autumn while picking up twigs from the lawn. The first fall wind is gentle and shy, nudges you with short whispers. The wind reminded me that I needed to cover some outdoor wires with electrical tape before the first rain.
Early fall has a certain smell — an accumulation of the scent of spring and summer, perhaps. More likely, its simply decay, like when the odor of an overripe banana can fill your entire house. Regardless of its origins or composition, I like the smell of early fall. But then again, I love the smell of compost as well.
I have heard that humans (and undoubtedly birds and other animals) connect with smell and memory in a way we may not completely understand. I looked it up and the “olfactory bulb” is connected to areas of the brain that are linked to emotion and memory. When the Handsome Woodsman died, I kept his shirts carefully covered, knowing one day they would no longer contain his scent. You might smell a mango in the grocery store and have gooey memories of your Hawaiian honeymoon.
Humans aren’t isolated in this memory/smell business. Something is going on in a dog’s brain when they return to that same spot, again and again.
Then, of course, there are the birds. In a month or so those migrating waterfowl will be having a hootenanny at wild places like Llano Seco Wildlife Refuge. Do they smell fall as well?
And why do they gather for so long?
Now that I’m a teacher, I think I have that figured out. I know that it takes a long, long, long time to teach a group of third graders how to walk in a straight line (without talking or touching the walls). I can’t even imagine how long it takes to organize a group of wild geese to fly in the same direction in a perfect V-formation.
Fall, and my olfactory bulb, reminded me that it’s time to think about spring-blooming bulbs — daffodils and hyacinth. (You can plant tulips as well, but you need to know they won’t bloom a second year in this climate).
If you haven’t purchased spring-blooming bulbs yet, go shopping. Many stores begin selling them in August, which is too early for me. However, the best selections might be gone if you wait until late November.
The students in my class don’t even know how excited I am that soon they will see hyacinth bulbs, with dangling jelly-fish roots, growing in hyacinth vases. I have them in my refrigerator right now. If you buy pre-chilled bulbs, you can force hyacinth bulbs in the windowsill right now. The vases are nicest to really give those white roots a chance to shine. I’ve also had luck with shallow glass bowls partially filled with pebbles. (You can buy clean, small rocks at the dollar store). Better Homes and Garden recommends wearing gloves when handling the bulbs because they can irritate your skin and eyes.
The bulbs should flower in about six weeks. If you want to have blooms at Thanksgiving, you can wait to start the process in mid-October. If my classroom show-and-tell works as I hope, I’ll put another batch into vases again next month.
The zucchini growing in my back yard have behaved predictably. I have harvested one zuke in the past week and a half. The tomatoes, however, are ripening ridiculously. I do not know how salsa with cilantro was ever invented, because cilantro goes to seed in hot weather and is long gone by the time the harvest for tomatoes is robust. For this reason, I buy cilantro at the farmers market and freeze. You can smash a bunch of leaves into an ice cube tray and cover with plastic, then transfer to another container once the cubes are frozen solid.
Our school garden, however, is still rocking. Last week our garden gals, Jackie and Michelle, brought our third-grade class some veggies. Of course, I used the opportunity to teach children that zucchini is actually a fruit. One of our amazing moms, Angie, cut hearts and stars in the middle of green fruit slices for an afternoon classroom snack. The veggies were a big hit, the hummus dip not so much. This was fine with me. Leftover hummus makes a great snack for a starving teacher.