Jessie Raymond: Calendar is lying; fall is really here

Forget what your calendar says. It’s officially fall.
The geese haven’t flown south and the leaves are still green, but the nights are growing cooler, and pumpkin spice is back. What other signs do you need?
I don’t drink pumpkin spice lattes or burn pumpkin spice candles. But as soon as I start seeing pumpkin spice products in orange containers and we get a few cool nights — the much-awaited Good Sleeping Weather everyone at the office talks about the next morning — I transform from a whiner who wilts in the humidity to a go-getter who must get things in order before winter.
This year, the metamorphosis came last weekend. I was ready for it, because a few days earlier I had seen a supermarket display of pumpkin spice Cheerios (“made with REAL pumpkin puree,” as if that helps). Then the temperatures dipped on Friday night, and that’s all it took.
I woke up at 5:30 on Saturday with an energy I hadn’t felt in months. I danced around the bedroom, saying, “Nippy this morning, isn’t it?” every few minutes until my husband peeked over the covers and asked me to go somewhere else until it was time to get up.
He has no appreciation for the changing seasons.
At other times of the year, I take my weekends a bit slower. I spend hours mentally preparing for mundane chores — a process that involves surfing the Internet and telling myself every 15 minutes, “One more blooper video, and then I really must clean the bathroom.”
In contrast, on Saturday morning, I skipped downstairs and, over coffee, scribbled down all my goals for the weekend. The list resembled something Laura Ingalls might have come up with, had she been a doomsday prepper with a Red Bull addiction. The full two pages went from “pick apples, make and can applesauce, bake pie, pick and process tomatoes, dig carrots” to “dig potatoes, roast chicken, bake bread, blanch and freeze corn.”
I hit pretty much every autumn task you could come up with, short of “churn the butter” and “thresh the wheat.” Maybe next year.
Granted, the list was more than even an over-caffeinated 19th-century prairie girl with a paranoid streak could accomplish in 48 hours. And everything took longer than I anticipated. The apple-related events, for instance, almost got sidelined when I couldn’t find the apple picker — a telescoping rod with a small basket on the end. (I store it in a different place every year, thinking the new location will be more intuitive. It never is.)
I eventually found it in a spot I had deemed “too obvious” to check. I then discovered that the apple trees, which stand out in our cow pasture, were surrounded by a patch of thistles whose spiky leaves and stems had a taste for human ankle flesh. Back to the house I went to hunt down my barn boots, which I hadn’t worn since mud season.
After a series of such delays — including a rousing game of “How Many Spiders Are Living in My Barn Boots?” — I finally started baking.
By the time I got the apple pie into the oven, the kitchen looked like the crime scene after the grisly murder of the Pillsbury Doughboy. I had left flour handprints on the fridge door, the oven front and, inexplicably, the valance curtain over the sink. Bowls piled up on the counter. Strips of apple peel hung from cabinet knobs.
I couldn’t help it. I baked with abandon because this was the kind of weekend I had waited for all year. These are the days that fill me with purpose.
By Sunday, I had gotten a good portion of the garden picked and processed. The kitchen looked like a farmers’ market that had been vandalized by hoodlums, but the pantry and freezer were filling up.
I felt alive.
Of course, the inspiring effect of cooler nights only lasts as long as the days stay warm. And, given the way modern marketing works, in just a few weeks pumpkin spice will give way to peppermint products in green and red packaging — my cue to go inside and knit by the woodstove until spring.
So, in case I don’t see you until mid-October, let me be the first to say it: Enjoy your peppermint hot chocolate, and have yourself a merry little Christmas.

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