Public Citizen - Larry Barnett


Can you feel it?

The season is changing. You’d think after 65 years, I’d be used to it, but I’m not. I was born in September, so perhaps that’s sharpened my attention. Whatever the cause, I can feel it.

My wife and I recently spent a week by the ocean. Surrounded by the sound of surf I watched the tides and wondered why I couldn’t feel the pull of the moon the way I feel the change of season. Perhaps the rhythm of the moon is too regular and all pervasive. Unlike the sun, the moon’s illumination does not change with the season. The regularity of its phases is matched by the constancy of its light. At our latitude, the sun’s yearly cycle, in contrast, takes it every lower in the sky for half-a-year, it’s illumination changing with it. The plants respond and so do I.

Right now the black walnuts are in free-fall. Sitting in the yard is a test of courage and probabilities. By the time a black walnut is ripe enough to fall, it’s usually ripe enough to make a mess. Black walnuts are so named because it’s ripe husk becomes a mushy ball of juicy jet-black muck. When one hits the flagstone in the garden it’s with an audible “smack!” that always makes one glad to be inside. The squirrels and crows are not helping. The squirrels, mouths and chins blackened by walnut husk juice, have started their neurotic nut-hiding game, burying and moving and reburying the same nut all over the garden, completely losing track. Next spring I will pull up the young trees that have sprouted, walnut still attached.

It’s September and the Bambusa oldhamii is sending up it’s new growth. A big, green, timber-style bamboo, oldhamii, like all bamboo sends up new growth at its maximum diameter. Adding nearly nine inches a day in height, I’ve literally sat for hours just to watch it grow. By the end of October, the new culms will be 35 feet high, and if October is cold or frosty two month’s growth will have to do until next spring when the lateral bamboo branches and leaves will emerge. Like me, oldhamii is not native to California.

It’s about now I begin to pine for rain. The dust on the skylight will be washed off by a solid rain, and that’s good since I’m long past climbing up on the roof. But we never know about the rain to come. At the first good rain the ground exhales, and so I do. By now it feels like the land is holding its breath in anticipation. I watch the skies and breathe deeply through my nose, instinctively searching out the faint odors of fall rain. I don’t smell it yet, but I can detect something in the air. Like I said, I can feel it.

Tellingly, I’m beginning to think about Cassoulet. An all-day cooking fest, Cassoulet is a white bean dish that’s assembled from cooked beans and roasted meats. When it’s done, the kitchen is a mess, the house is filled with delicious smells, and the heat from the oven gives everyone flushed cheeks. If lucky, by dinner time it will begin to rain, and filled with beans later on I’ll lie in bed falling asleep while the rain drops on the skylight tap out the rhythm of this fall’s seasonal melody.

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