It’s time to plant the bulbs. But I put it off as long as possible because planting bulbs mean making space in borders which are still flowering. Pulling out all the annuals which nature has allowed to erupt in overpowering purple, orange and pink, a final cry of joy. That would almost be murder, and so I wait until the first night frost anaesthetizes all the flowers with a cold, a creaky crust that causes them to wither; a very gentle death. Now I wander through my garden indecisively, trying to hold on to the last days of late summer.
The trees are plump with leafy splendor. The birch is softly rustling gold, which is now fluttering down like an unending stream of confetti. Soon November will be approaching with its autumn storms and leaden clouds hanging above your head like soaking wet rags. Just let it stay like this, I think, gazing at the huge mysterious shadows the trees conjure up on the shining green meadows, the cows languidly flicking their tails. Everything breathes an air of stillness, the silence rent by the exuberant color of asters, dahlias, sunflowers and roses.
The mornings begin chilly. The evenings give you shivers and cold feet in bed. But in the middle of the day the sun breaks through, evaporating the mist on the grass, butterflies and wasps appear and cobwebs glisten against windows like silver lace. The harvest of a whole year’s hard work is on the trees and bushes; berries, beech mast, chestnuts, and acorns.
Suddenly, I think of my youngest daughter, living now in Amsterdam. Very soon she will call and ask, “Have you planted the bulbs yet?” Then I will answer teasingly that actually I’m waiting until she comes to help me. And then we will both be overcome by nostalgia, because once we always did that together. One entire sunny autumn afternoon, when she was three and a half years old, she helped me with all enthusiasm and joyfulness of her age.
It was one of the last afternoons that I had her around, because her place in school has been already reserved. She wandered around so happily carefree with her little bucket and spade, covering the bulbs with earth and calling out “Night, night” or “Sleep night”, her little voice chattering constantly on. She discovered “baby bulbs”, “kiddie bulbs”, and “mummy and daddy bulbs”, the latter snuggling cozily together. While we were both working so industriously, I watched my kid very deliberately. She was such a tiny thing, between an infant and a toddler, with such a round little tummy.
Every autumn, throughout her childhood, we repeated the ritual of planting the bulbs together. Every autumn I saw her changing, the toddler became a schoolgirl, a straightforward realist, full of drive. Never once dreamy, her hands in her pockets; no longer happily indulging in her fantasies. The schoolgirl developed long legs, her jaw-line changed, she had her hair cut. It was autumn again that I thought “bye roses, bye butterflies, bye schoolgirl”. I listened to her stories while we painstakingly burrowed in the earth, planting the promise of spring.
Suddenly, much quicker than I had expected, a tall teenager was standing by my side. She is taller than I. The ritual became rather silent, and we no longer chatter from one subject to another. I thought about her room full of posters and knick-knacks, how it had been full of treasures in bottles and boxes, white peddles, a copper brooch, colored drawings, the treasures of a child who still knew nothing of money, who wanted to be read to and who looked anxiously at a spider at her room and asked, “Would he want to be my friend?”
Then came the autumn when I planted the bulbs alone, and I knew from then on it would always be that way. But every year, in autumn, she talks about it, full of nostalgia for the security of childhood, the seclusion of a garden, the final moments of a season. How both of us would dearly love to have a time machine to go back. Just for a day.