Sunday, October 14, 2007


As I write, I look out a window onto a crisp autumn day. The green woods, with daubs of color here and there, don't really look like fall is here, but as you sit still and listen, you hear the occasional patter of acorns falling to the ground, squirrels more busily going about their business, and even occasionally the honk, caw and cackle of various flocks beginning to gird themselves for their next big migration. The sun, instead of beating down from a bleached sky, as it did but a couple of months ago, now quietly slants in from the side, the air seeming crisper, the light more revealing. The shadows are different and the clean light plays about the leaves, showing off a broad palette of greens and yellows, grey and black.

There is something to love in every season and its turning. Once, years ago, I worked on a land-based oil rig for a few months. It was a rewarding experience but one of the things I enjoyed most, (and in contrast to most of working life), was that there were definable milestones and points of completion. You came onto a new site, you drilled the well, you finished it off and then moved to the next site. Planning, action, outcome. Progress.

Though most of us have long departed the land, Autumn is like that as well. In our culture, in our adages, in our folktales and in our storytelling, we still recognize Autumn as being that point where you do two things. You harvest the outcome of your efforts from the Spring and Summer. And related, but different from that, you prepare for the approaching trials of winter. In PoliSci terms, you might say that Autumn is the season of capitalists where you receive the return on your investments and manage your approaching risks.

In our separation from the land and our insulation from the vagaries of weather, we have removed ourselves and our children from some of these lessons which I think is unfortunate. As parents, one of the things we are constantly seeking to instill is a comprehension that there are consequences to actions. They may seem, from the perspective of a child, to be disproportionate, or unfair, or inconsistent but it is critical that they understand that there are consequences. No matter how much you may dislike them, there are decisions that need to be made, priorities established, hard choices elected and consequences borne. Nature's vagaries are a good reminder to children that the seeming unfairness of consequences are not something reserved to them but happen to us all.

I love the language of the King James Bible and one of my favorite passages is from Ecclesiastes 9:11,

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Every year in early October we have the privilege of sharing a weekend in the mountains of western North Carolina with a community of friends. One of our family traditions on these occasions, is to spend part of the morning on Sunday before our return to Atlanta, picking apples in an orchard crowning one of the high crests in these mountains. Were we to do nothing at all, it would still be beautiful, looking out over the magnificent spread of views of the Appalachians.

There is a delight to children and parents alike in this process: the little ones climbing to pick just the right apple that no one else can reach, the parents watching the running, eager excitement of fresh-faced kids. No one can long resist the temptation of eating one of the sun-ripened sweet (or tart) apples, with dripping, sticky juice getting out of hand. On our return home, the sack of apples sits there in the corner of the kitchen for a week or so, a daily challenge to eat as many as we picked, and in the end the sensory delight of apple pies and apple crumble.

But this year there was more of a lesson than a traditional picking experience. We had sharp, late spring frosts in the mountains, just as the apple trees were in blossom. What survived that, perished in the continuing drought we have experienced. The kids could not finish the weekend without at least visiting our favorite orchard. While there was no picking to be done, we were able to support the farmer by purchasing apples trucked in from Virginia - not the same experience, of course, but a token of concern.

It was a sobering reminder that harvest does not always bring us what we expect, that good efforts and planning can come to nought, and that there is an inherent unfairness in life that in fact is life. It is our preparation for the unexpected and our commitment and support of one another that makes things not only bearable but rewarding. These are complex lessons easily burdened down by seriousness but Autumn frames them clearly in ways that are very comprehensible to children.

The flip side of this experience, though, is the manifest richness and bounty all about us. I can never decide when Nature is at her most flagrant, Spring or Fall. Here in the US we of course have the wonderful traditional holiday of Thanksgiving that marks the celebration of harvest completed - marked by feasting and celebrating.

Below is a collection of stories marking the bringing in of the harvest, of Autumn, of pumpkins and of apple picking.

Picture Books

Christopher's Harvest Time by Elsa Beskow Recommended

The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh and illustrated by Helen Sewell Suggested

Little Red Hen by Paul Gadone Suggested

The Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall and illustrated by Barbara Cooney Recommended

Johnny Appleseed by Reeve Lindbergh and Illustrated by Kathy Jakobsen Highly Recommended

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey Highly Recommended

Puss In Boots by Charles Perrault and illustrated by Fred Marcellino Suggested

The Ant and the Grasshopper by Aesop and illustrated by Amy Lowry Poole Suggested

Little Red Hen by Jerry Pinkney Suggested

When the Frost is on the Punkin by James Whitcomb Riley and illustrated by Glenna Lang Out of Print Suggested

Little Red Hen by Margot Zemach

Independent Reader

The Classic Treasury of Aeseop's Fables by Aeseop and illustrated by Don Daily Suggested

The First Thanksgiving by Jean Craighead George and illustrated by Thomas Locker Suggested

Possum's Harvest Moon by Anne Hunter Suggested

N.C. Wyeth's Pilgrims by Robert D. San Souci and illustrated by N.C. Wyeth Suggested

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder Recommended

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