First Frost 

Steals in your absence
Leaving fingerprints glistening in first light.
Each touched—leaf, late bloom, final fruit--
frosty lips leaving goodbye kisses. 

You begged--
Cover, save, don’t let this end.
Blooms could ripen once more
Yield one more fruit,
One more good work. 

I wrestle tarps and sheets in biting wind
A job for two, but you have left me
with only instructions
Impossible to follow, alone. 

Tonight’s showy star-filled sky
offers no shield
To temperature’s plunge. 

Let them go—balmy air cannot revive
their limp reminders of beauty--
Shriveled orange nasturtiums, red peppers, zucchini,
Raspberries, drooping on their cones.  

Dust to dust;
plow death under,
fuel another
spring’s abundance. 

Frost, come
Have your way
While I burrow under quilts
Praying for life’s swift return. 

C. Rottman, 10/12/09

   This poem was written a year ago but more or less summarizes the previous ten autumns.  First frosts conveniently occur during the times of my husband’s annual fall outing.  He is never ready to say good-bye to his wonderful summer avocation or to warm weather for that matter.  He plants late beans to see if he can extend the season, he says.  So we cover, uncover and hope for a few more warm days.  Or, I should say I cover.

This year was different.  First frost came before he left so we could together drape all the plants with tarps, sheets and plastic packing material.  Second frost came the next night but although he had gone the covers were still in place.  I got a friend to help me lift them off and fold before almost two weeks of gloriously balmy weather.  Third frost found him home but we missed all talk of freeze warnings until after 11pm.  We dutifully found what light we could and covered again.  Those beans got another chance at life!  But as we removed the covers we agreed: time to put the garden to bed. We went so far as to stow all the covers in the barn.

One balmy afternoon, I picked all the good-sized green tomatoes and trimming back the thick vines so Fritz could find the tomatoes cages, while he cleaned up the empty beds.  We were dog-tired when Fourth Frost again caught us unawares on the eleven o’clock news; I shouted, “No, I’m not doing that again...” I check the Weather Bug and convince him 37 would be the low in our area. 

You can guess the scene in the morning—a tinge of white on the grass and the lower garden.  Frost brought its deadly kisses to the zucchini, green beans and one volunteer tomato plant that was still producing great Roma tomatoes.  Both of us felt disappointment, second thoughts about giving in to the warm bed—but were rational enough to know that all good gardens must come to an end.

We can’t take any credit for the perfect summer, as witnessed on the prairie with wildflowers and grasses, or the abundant garden yield or now a perfectly unfolding autumn.  Just the right balance of sun, and moisture made all growing things thrive.  Including the two of us. 

So this late afternoon we did put that old garden to bed.  As Fritz pulled his dozen tomato “trees” up with their cages, I picked up hundreds of fallen tomatoes.  It was cold but the breeze was kind.  At dusk, as we finally called it a day and headed in for a bowl of vegetable soup, the near full moon rising over the lake got our attention.  Shalom. We were thankful to be entrusted as stewards of this piece of ground by the One who always gives the increase—ever so generously in the summer of 2010.