There is a time of year, a very special time. You retire to bed one night with thoughts of summer only to awaken to cool air, bountiful colors of foliage, the season’s last smell of cut hay and a distant fire burning. Summer has officially ended and the fall harvest is now upon us. It is time to welcome autumn like an old friend.
Seasons bring a flood of memories, days from the past. There was a time many years ago when I was very fortunate to spend time with my grandfather, a gentleman that knew the value of a life well-lived. It was not the words spoken but the simple tasks in life that he held in great esteem.
His hundred-acre farm was his domain where he spent his days managing all that nature provided. Grandfather and grandmother were married on the old farm and a small tree was planted in recognition of their union. A wedding tree that was nurtured and grew into a well-rooted strong sugar maple that produced fine maple syrup each spring as the planting season was planned. The wedding tree witnessed many joyous occasions as well as sad ones too for life is unknown and it is only the future we behold. A small sapling that grew to be strong, as strong as the two young lives that were joined nearby.
It is this day many decades later that I spend some time on the old farm, long abandoned and beautifully returned to the forest from which it came. The buildings are now gone and the fields overgrown but still sheltered by the bordering stone walls. Walls that were built by my grandfather and his grandfather before, each stone dry-fitted for eternal life. The cool autumn air has returned to the top of the hill, the sun shines bright on this cloudless day. I walk the hundred acres in a leisurely manner with melancholy moments at each stop. It is deep in the forest that I still see the old sap bucket long grown into the tree, my elderly grandfather cherished his tools and equipment but missed this lone bucket many decades before. I find the stones piled into a crude hearth where he would enjoy his lunch by the warmth of a fire late into the harvest season, the perfect spot to sit for a time and admire the abundant colors of the New Hampshire fall foliage season. I spend some time here myself remembering those moments, now long bittersweet, for he is gone and I am only left with the old memories growing older.
As I proceed along, I encounter the fields that once were. He produced the finest corn as well as a very endless supply of pumpkins that won countless blue ribbons at the county fair. As the hot summer days of my childhood ended and we returned to school each year, I knew that it was almost time to visit grandfather and work with him to harvest his crops before the killing frost.
His strong calloused hands would lift me onto the old wooden wagon pulled by his ancient red tractor down the roads and into the fields where he would select a spot to start the harvest. He would tell me each harvest season to pick the largest pumpkin for myself. I would hear him laugh as I made my attempt to lift the pumpkin I selected, outweighing me by many pounds. As the wagon was filled with a bountiful supply of orange pumpkins and the sun started to cast shadows across the edge of the field, we ventured back slowly to the barn to unload.
Grandmother would always greet us from the front porch and the scent of freshly baked pumpkin pie always beckoned me to the kitchen. My pie would be accompanied by a mason jar full of cold apple cider, made fresh on the farm by grandfather.
The world was a simple place all those decades ago, the innocence of youth coupled with loving grandparents provided me with a foundation so very strong. It was during harvest time each year that my best lessons were learned, lessons that allowed me to understand the importance of being honest and hard-working. I learned other things too. Seeds were planted in my youth and some of grandfather’s lessons did not sprout until I became older myself. With age I gained a better appreciation for the important things in life. I developed a better understanding of the harvest. I have finally realized that I was not just gathering pumpkins at the family farm all those decades ago. I was gathering memories, my memories, thoughts that needed to grow within me. It is only at this time that I realize the importance of these memories that I harvest each year when I visit.
Some thoughts are lost to the years while others visit me at the best moments, old thoughts from my early years.
I have spent decades visiting the old farm, walking the overgrown fields while still learning from my grandfather. I still feel his presence as I journey for miles in solitude and recall a life without boundaries when fear was simply not known. When my grandfather passed away, I felt a void, a dark place in my heart, a void that I thought I would never be able to satisfy. Though the loss still invokes sadness within my heart I have found a new appreciation with each passing year.
My pilgrimage to the family farm is greatly anticipated by me. I think about my autumn trip where I walk the hundred acres of hallowed ground once again with my grandfather. I hear his voice and feel his presence. The sweet scent of pumpkin pie and the taste of cold apple cider.
These are the memories that sustain me over the long New Hampshire winters, warm thoughts on cold days.
With this autumn day ending I set course for the wedding tree, a very special place. I walk slowly and gather more of the old memories along the way, harvesting each and every thought from grandfathers’ old fields. Upon reaching the mature sugar maple I rest for a moment and think about the two young lives that were joined on this very spot a century before. I leave with so many wonderful thoughts, my harvest from the old family farm has been good this year. u