I just love autumn.
Each season of the year has advantages, of course. Spring is a favorite among most people, with its budding promise of new life.
For outdoorsy types, summer is a boom time. For those who love gardening and water sports, it's hard to find time to balance the lure of the water with the lure of the garden center.
Winter has its charm too. It's a peaceful season, a restful time to snuggle indoors and read or return to a favorite hobby.
But no other season is as busy and purposeful as autumn. As the leaves begin to turn gorgeous shades of red, gold and bronze, the pace gets a bit faster. We quicken our steps as the oppressive summer heat fades, and we heed a long buried instinct to prepare for the coming frost.
These days, it isn't imperative that people put away enough food to last through the winter, but in the past many people's lives depended upon it. Giant grocery stores didn't sit on every corner, and even if they had, many couldn't afford to shop in them.
My grandparents were among the last generation that had to stockpile a season of food, and some of their fall preparations included preserving vegetables, smoking ham and drying fruit.
Their farm in middle Tennessee was a hub of activity in the fall, as they harvested the fields and gardens to put up food for the farm animals and for themselves. And the gardening still wasn't over - they put in cool weather crops like winter onions while performing a host of other chores.
The grandchildren loved to help, and we would head to the tired garden to search for the last of the summer crop
We would gather the vegetables and have one last canning session in the country kitchen, filling the thick Ball jars with beans, tomatoes and squash. A trip to the orchard would produce a last bushel of ugly little apples which we would peel and slice, knowing they would yield fabulous treats in the coming months. My grandmother would keep some for immediate use, and the scent of fresh apple pie would waft through the house. After traditional summer favorites like ice cream and watermelon, the warm pies seemed a special treat.
To get out of the kitchen, we children would head for the woods with woven oak baskets in hopes the squirrels had left a few hickory nuts. After the hunt, even if it proved a failure, we would sip hot cider or chocolate in front of the black iron wood burning stove in the living room waiting for the chill to leave us.
I miss those harvest days on the farm, but parts of the fall I can still enjoy include mums, colorful gourds, Indian corn, blue skies, red sweaters and black birds flying in V-formation.
I'll be sorry to see summer end, but I'm focusing on what the autumn has to offer.