Leaves are falling at Greenvalley. They sound like passing thoughts.
When I went outside this morning at seven, the old crepe myrtle in the front yard was wearing its autumn garb, which it does for a few days every November, and as the sun rose above the bowl of Laurel Canyon, its first rays traveled a flat transit over the ridge to set the crepe myrtle aglow. For a few minutes the world was red. I stood and marveled. A breeze passed. A shower of leaves fluttered down. Graceful dying.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.
—Shakespeare's Sonnet 73
The crepe myrtle, I figure, must be as old as the house. It's the biggest one I've ever seen and is sadly entering its senescence after 80 years. I've had to face the question of what will replace it.
During my 5 years at Greenvalley, the tree's vigor has waned. Each year it has fewer leaves. It still blooms hot pink in August, but ever more sparsely. Mushrooms have started to emerge from its tired roots. It has exhaused itself, Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by, and I wonder: will it be felled by some fatal blow or lingeringly fade away? It's a question that time imposes on each living thing.
When I was little, Gran and Pappaw had a hot pink crepe myrtle up against the house at the Farm. It was not quite as big as this one, but then that was 30 years ago. The two trees were probably planted around the same time, which is to say when Gran and Pappaw were themselves young and full of sap. Their crepe myrtle fell to a bulldozer when the Farm was sold to a developer after Pappaw's death. The sale, necessary to settle his estate, is the inconsolable regret of my life and always will be. Gran and Pappaw's land, which used to grow crops and literally fed the West family, now grows houses.
Five years ago when I first saw Greenvalley, the crepe myrtle in the yard—Gran and Pappaw's crepe myrtle to my eyes—was how I immediately knew this was home. The synchronicity continues to amaze me, although it's also a constant reminder of what is gone and what is even now passing. When the inevitable season arrives, will I be shocked by the crepe myrtle's sudden demise or relieved that a long, melancholy wait is over?
And where will Gran's spirit then hover when she comes to visit me? Of course I know it's a silly question, but perhaps nostalgic minds will indulge it. For a while I thought that I'd replace the crepe myrtle with another, the biggest I could buy, in order to quickly fill up the absence. But I've realized that such absences cannot be filled. In time, though, something else may root in their place.
This year a tiny coastal live oak, the native Quercus agrifolia, emerged from an acorn buried by some squirrel near the base of the crepe myrtle.
There it will grow.
FIRE-ROASTED PEPPERS IN RED WINE VINEGAR
This is probably my favorite pickle, although I don't really think of it as a pickle. It's a snack—as well as a condiment to dress up any plate and an ingredient for pizzas, pastas and omelets, BOTTOM. This recipe is based on my favorite summertime hors d'oeuvre of fire-roasted peppers in a red-wine vinaigrette, and I've pulled together ideas from a couple of different places in Linda Ziedrich's The Joy of Pickling. I'm happy to say that the result is satisfyingly close to the taste and even the texture of freshly roasted peppers. And obviously you don't have to stick to red. I just put up a batch of reds, yellows and half-greens together. In the jar, they have the same torrid colors as the autumn leaves outside.
4 pounds sweet peppers—I particularly like thick-fleshed lipstick peppers
1 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon non-iodized salt
3 whole garlic cloves
good olive oil
1 Char the peppers—really scorch them black—over a hot woodfire or beneath the broiler. Place in a covered bowl to cool for 15 minutes. Rub off the skins and remove seeds. Slice into wide strips.
2 Place a whole garlic clove in each jar and gently pack prepared peppers into pint jars.
3 Combine vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a small pan and bring to a boil. Ladle hot syrup over the peppers to barely cover, leaving a generous 1/2" headspace. You'll need to gently prod the peppers around in the jar using a skewer or a thin spatula to insure that there are no air pockets. As they settle, you may need to add more syrup. Pour about a tablespoon of oil into each jar, so that you have a floating layer of oil that completely covers the peppers.
4 Wipe the rims of the jar with a dab of vinegar (to remove all traces of oil), seal and process in a hot-water bath (between 180-185 degrees) for 30 minutes.
4 lbs peppers yields 3 pints