Durham News: Opinion

George O’Neal: The autumn of our content

By George O’Neal

George O’Neal
George O’Neal

So after all the candy and character play of the best holiday of all is finished, and the last wrappers are still blowing around in your yard with the leaves, and long after that sad jack-o-lantern slowly collapses from bright shiny orange to a sad yellow with gross hair, fall is still creeping along.

To be honest, this is the best time of year, end of story. I know some of you weirdos out there like winter best, with its cold, dark days, or even spring with all its new colors, hopeful glimmers, and reemerging critters. I’d even guess that a few of you more truly depraved individuals love summer most of all, the heat, the sweat, and the humidity that turns the air to soup, the clouds of mosquitoes that seem only to dissipate to make room for more mosquitoes, and to y’all I will just say humbly, yet forcefully, you are incorrect. It’s all about the fall.

On this farm, we are winding down the busiest parts of the year, cleaning all the piles of forgotten projects, and harvesting all the root crops. We are busy tucking in all the plants that go year-round and looking out at all the amazing colors that the trees make as they start to take their clothes off for the rest of the year, and we are finally getting to breathe a little after another awesome season of abundance.

It’s real easy to get mired down in the day-to-day minutia when you’re endlessly picking cherry tomatoes, or weeding beans for what seems like days, and it gets easy to question why anyone with a functional brain would choose to do this for a living. But then, just around the breaking point of your spirit and back, we get this amazing gift. The light starts to change and all the landscape looks more picturesque than the Piedmont ever should. The days start getting more tastefully temperate, and of course the rains come back and re-green the scorched fields; they make the cole crops jump overnight, and the cold starts creeping in slowly letting you know to clean the mold off your stored winter clothes. I’m reminded why I like doing this so much, and when that happens for me, it’s like early Christmas.

For someone who spends most every day outside, rain or shine, it is such a treat to live where we do, where it’s possible to farm year-round with minimal tricks and infrastructure. It’s apparent when the plants seem happiest, and all the factors that affect them seem to be cooperating for their benefit this time. We have a beautiful fall patch of greens this year. I would say it’s the best we have ever produced. It was touch and go for several hot, droughty weeks of hand watering each baby plant, but just like me they seem to come alive at this season change in particular.

I was saying all this to a friend the other night, and she said the craziest thing to me: “I’m not really that into it, all that change is a bit depressing.”

Time out, what?

What about the colors, the light? What about these giant kale plants, and the later start time for work? Are you crazy? Are you just trying to let the terrorists win? She said she can appreciate it, but only because she knows that we are supposed to be living more like plants and following a more seasonal cycle.

Yep, that’s right. In the winter we are supposed to be focused on our root growth and on hibernation, so reading Patrick O’Brien books and drinking hot toddies? Check.

In the spring we are supposed to get excited showing off all the new leaves we got, making colorful displays, and soaking up all the nutrients we can, right? So fill the greenhouse and the field with baby plants, and start smiling at flowers and bees, got it.

When the heat of summer comes in we are supposed to do our best production, but also to look for every opportunity to have a bit of water – sweat, pick tomatoes, swim, swim, done.

But when the fall comes, we are supposed to either get killed by the first frost or take our time showing off and converting all our sugars to starches to stockpile food for the cold. So if I have this right, and I think I do, just like the trees in my yard I need to be like a plant. I need to pack on a few pounds, put on lots colorful clothes, then slowly take them off and toss them all across the yard, then I need to stand there for the whole neighborhood to see, until spring comes back around. Might be a long winter.

George O’Neal operates Lil Farm in Timberlake and is a member of the Carrboro and Durham farmers markets. You can reach him at info@lilfarmnc.com