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Garden: On the Move

From succulents to solar radiation, October is the time to shuffle everything around.

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But, I thought, this goes much deeper than just senseless caterpillar hunger. Something was up, and I was guessing it went all the way to the top. All the way to the Big Lightbulb — the most important 499-second ride in the solar system.

My investigation was interrupted by the coming of October, a month notoriously characterized by a lot of moving around in the horticultural realm. With garlic and other bulbs lined up to go in the ground, I turned my attention to the restless army of succulents we keep around the house: jades and sedum, hens and chicks. They were all going to be shifted to southern and western windows, crowding around one another to watch the coming season as cooler temperatures and shorter days fell.

Outside, the dead leaves and branches were being collected in the compost heap to cook for next spring and keep disease from moving into the garden. And the hot-pepper plants were being moved from the garden and hung to dry (not yet by the chimney with care). And both the Christmas cactus and the poinsettias had begun their in-house bipolar existence: 10 hours of direct sunlight, the rest of the day in total darkness (Dr. Fergeson's basement).

There we were outside one afternoon, planning like high-school football coaches the strategy for moving perennials and evergreens around in the latter part of the month, after they'd gone dormant but before the ground got too hard.

"End-zone scramble?" I asked.

"Run and gun?" he suggested.

Then I noticed the birds winging south. Even the animals are on the move, I thought. And then The Day When My Dinner Plans Failed, the day of caterpillars and parsley, it all came back to me. The little buggers were storing up for hibernation in the chrysalis. My parsley went the way of the dodo for what? So they could take a nap. And why? Because the sun was on the move. Or, more precisely, the Earth.

"Let's take a drive," I said to Dr. Fergeson.

We left out some seed for the birds. Planning for hungry migrant birds or butterflies turns the garden into a kind of truck stop, minus the pork rinds. Fall is the time for people to move around a bit too, to check out the emergence of fall colors. We drove up into the hills, hot on the trail of the real culprit behind the assassination of my fall social scene.

We caught them, red- and gold- and brown-handed: the trees in the middle of their winter preparations, aiding and abetting. When they begin shutting down for the cold months, all the chlorophyll in the leaves — the green, light-absorbing stuff — takes a powder, revealing the true colors of the leaves. Leftover glucose turns red, waste in the leaves turns brown. Ingredients for that perfect autumn centerpiece.

Not for me, though! What good's a centerpiece without a dinner?

And so I drove angrily on, to the top of the mountain, there to stare down the planet from the highest vantage. The planet Earth, the same one that tilts the Northern Hemisphere away from the light of the sun like it's trying to sleep off a hangover. The same one that makes it colder here, makes the days shorter, makes the trees clam up and the animals hightail it south or get stuffed into a food coma. The one that's partially deflecting the most important ride in the solar system, the 499 seconds it takes light to get here from the sun. The light that makes everything from gasoline to a lovely braised duck with garlic mashed potatoes possible.

It was the Earth the whole time. My parsley's real killer. The Earth is responsible for the daily calendar, and this fall, at least, it totally ruined my social one.

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