Take the other day. An absolutely beautiful fall day. Crisp blue sky. Sun glittering through leaves of clear yellow, gold, bronze, orange, and deep crimson. Oh, the leaves. Our giant oak trees dumping bushels and bushels of leaves on the lawn. The John Deere lawn tractor roaring, blurring out the marching rhythms of the Blue Band practice that travel across the valley.
Our two-house, dead-end road is called Timber Lane. It connects to Oak Ridge Avenue.
Oak leaves, piles of them. So that is why it is called Oak Ridge Avenue—it is a ridge of oaks where an avenue and development moved in. It only took about 55 years for me to figure that out.
So here I am, on a perfect autumn day, mowing the lawn and worrying about mulching my garlic for the winter. I don’t have any straw. The hay in the barn has too many weed seeds. And then I remember a woman with a question a few weeks ago at a garlic-planting workshop. “What if you don’t have straw for mulch? Can you use leaves?”
“Sure,” I answered, “as long as they’re chopped up.”
The conversation comes back to me as I circle the yard, the lawn tractor shooting oak leaves into the center. Why not use these oak leaves, chopped by the mower, to mulch my garlic? Heck, my garlic patch is just on the other side of the split rail fence. I can take the rails down and just wheel the barrow filled with chopped leaves and sprinkle them on my rows of garlic.
I became a lawn cowgirl with a mission, lassoing those leaves. “Head ‘em up, Move ‘em on.” The theme song of my childhood TV favorite, Rawhide, comes blasting out of my mouth. Round and round I go. Visions of barrel racers crowd my head. They rein their muscular Quarter Horses around the barrels, leaning in, teasing gravity.
This is the same lawn my sisters and I traversed with our ponies playing Cowboys and Indians. I was always a squaw, picking berries. My sister Lisa was a brave, because she was bold enough to forego a shirt and paint her chest as she galloped on her white Welsh pony. Lee Ann must have been the cowgirl. There’s a story of her riding Firecracker in a Pet Pony class at a horse show. The wind was blowing and her cowboy hat would start to fly off her head, so she’d reach up to hold it on—with reins still in her hands. Each time she reached for her hat, she would pull Firecracker’s reins, making him stop. So Lee Ann would kick her little heels to make him start again. Stop start stop start stop start.
Back to the now. The dry leaves rustle as I plow through them. Rustling leaves, rustling cattle—same word, totally different meanings. I wonder why? So I rake my windrow into piles, and using the toothed fan of the rake and my left arm, I bear hug the leaves and dump them into the wheelbarrow. To the garlic patch I go, spreading the leaves on each row of garlic, tucking my cloves in for a long winter’s nap. Laurie Lynch
Rustling Up a Recipe: After all of this cowgirl stuff I worked up quite an appetite. I was hungry for baked apples and remembered a recipe in the Marcon Family Cookbook, created for a family reunion in 1990. I found the page I was looking for, Xeroxed in the handwriting of my first niece.
BAKED STUFFED APLES
STUFF WITH APRICOTS OR RAISINS AND BROWN SUGAR. POUR APPlE JUICE OVER Them. COVER WITH Plastic Wrap. BaKE in MicROwave for ten minutes or done.
I’ve tried to re-create the mixture of capital and lower case letters to indicate the trials and tribulations of a child navigating early printing—not criticizing her penmanship. It’s a charming snapshot of 6-year-old Alicia. She now holds a Master’s degree in Social Work and not long ago, turned the REAL 30. In months she’ll be a mother, and in no time, teaching her own child how to print…and bake apples.
Meanwhile, we baked apples a la Alicia, with Aunt Laurie’s few changes of convenience. No apricots or raisins, so I substituted dried cranberries. Brown sugar was rock hard, so I doused the apples with Alicia’s dad’s home-tapped maple syrup. And, since I was baking spaghetti squash for dinner, I baked the apples, covered with foil, in a traditional oven, 375 degrees for about 40 minutes.
Written on Slate: “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”—Albert Camus