IT BEGINS in October, after a sudden cold wind sweeps through the yard and dogwood leaves turn red the next day.
My fall crisis is on.
I look at what's left of summer's bounty: a scraggly thicket of raspberry branches with thorns sharper and more numerous than I remember; leafless tomato plants with doomed, glassy green fruits; cucumber vines as shriveled as molted snakeskins. And skeletons of black- eyed susans everywhere.
Summer was too wild. Things went too far, too fast. Now it's all over. The counterrevolution has begun. We have surrendered.
But what a mess I made! I let a hundred flowers bloom where 50 would have been too many. I planted the peppers too close to one another, and the fiery cayennes pollinated the mellow Californians. My family was right in complaining: Why can't we have a single sweet pepper? I didn't even cut back the forest of Jerusalem artichokes that shot 12 feet high and then toppled over in a storm, never to stand up straight again. I let the brussels sprouts fend for themselves against the cherry tomatoes that crop up year after year.
Once more I didn't listen to my wife's perfectly reasonable suggestion that I dig up all the horseradish plants and resettle them somewhere out of sight, in the backyard, where their network of roots and huge leaves would be contained and kept away from the swiss chard. Two years ago, my mother-in-law mistook horseradish leaves for swiss chard -- they are similar, no question about that -- and I ate a most bitter bowl of soup.
But next year I must do it right! Raspberries in one row, cucumbers in another, tomatoes in the third. Each to its own. Trespassers will be removed immediately. I'll plant peppers and brussels sprouts at recommended intervals. I'll show no more favor to black-eyed susans -- they too will be allowed only in designated areas near the entrance. Order and decorum will be my motto.
The problem is that I don't keep my promises. Once the ground is warm again, I say that life is to be lived intensively and that disorder is good Darwinian fun, organic and passionate. I clutch onto every positive comment from neighbors. I keep quiet about setbacks in pepper production and play up the tastiness of my tomatoes instead. And if a snotty visitor asks how I could allow such a mess to happen, or if I am some kind of anarchist, I go as far as to falsify harvest statistics to prove that my bazaar has a lot more to offer than does someone else's shopping center. I will extol the virtues of freedom over repression. I will unfurl the banner of sovereign folly against reason and moderation.
To accept fall is to accept defeat. Fall is a time to learn that glory doesn't last forever. It is a time to fight one's nature.
Until spring comes.