A Smorgasbord of Fall

 A smorgasbord of dried plant specimens led us to discovering autumn.

Last week, thanks to a ride from her son, Maria* and I had the rare opportunity to go for a long walk at a conversation area. We were delighted by the abundance of fall wildflowers and monarch butterflies we spotted and talked endlessly about the stunning colours of the sumac. Yet, despite being a lifelong outdoors enthusiast and nature lover, Maria asked for repeated confirmation of what season we were in and seemed caught off guard when I mentioned the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend. Looking around her retirement home when we got back, I realized there was virtually nothing in the indoor “landscape” that changed with the seasons. And apart from a few commercial planters that made up the surrounding downtown streetscape, the outdoor environment offered no seasonal markers either.

This week when I visited Maria, I brought along a variety of seed heads that I had collected while helping my mom in the garden over the weekend. I was afraid I didn’t have enough of a program for our time together and would end up winging it, but somehow a random collection of dried specimens led us to discovering autumn. A few flying milkweed seeds that looked like they were trying to escape the observation table got us to talking about seed dispersal, and that topic somehow led to Maria telling me about the seeds she had brought in her suitcase when she had moved to Canada. She also told me for the first time all about the garden she had developed over many years and went through a detailed list of all the activities she used to do in the fall to prepare the garden for winter. Later, when I pulled out a scrapbook of fall garden photos for us to admire, I sensed that getting outside need not be an occasional event. In a sense, we were already there, without ever having left the room. Visits have the potential to be extremely rich even without a flashy program. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow of the season.

*Name changed for privacy.