The Mast-Head: Taking Measure

The impulse may have roots in an agrarian past

   September comes, and like many others, I find myself almost subconsciously taking stock of the preceding months. The impulse may have roots in an agrarian past, idealized perhaps, in which we counted up the season’s harvests, what we squirreled away in the rafters, so to speak, for the coming barren months.
    In this modern age, in which backyard gardens are a pastime rather than a necessity of life, the measures of the season’s success aren’t life-and-death. I had begun the year with great plans for my two raised beds, adding compost and hacking away the still-dormant poison ivy and weeds. The stumbling point came when it was time to figure out what to do about the deer, which, I believe, consider our driveway home — and anything we plant their just desserts.
    By midsummer, a volunteer spaghetti squash had taken over one bed, forcing out some fancy potatoes that had come back on their own. In the other bed, the leeks returned but went to seed in great, pale-violet heads before I managed to do much with them. The deer weren’t interested in either of these.
    Other yardsticks include the Sunfish, an unnamed small sailboat a friend gave me long ago when he sold his East Hampton house and moved lock, stock, and barrel to New Jersey. Have we used it enough this year? Will there still be days warm enough that one or more of the kids will want to go out on the bay with me?
    Beach plum jelly is another measure of the end of the season, and this year, I managed to get a few jars put up. Not so with blackberries, which did not appear to fare well in the August drought. I don’t know about grapes, though probably some are to be found in the wetter places.
    Ticks, on the other hand, did spectacularly this year, particularly the smallest ones, which have swarmed up our legs in great numbers. Then there is the unresolved mystery of the other bites on our legs and waists — the suspicion that they are from chiggers, though opinions vary about whether this traditionally Southern pest is prevalent in these parts.
    I suspect that the deer have quite a bit to do with all these pests, which my family tends to pick up while walking along the grassy sides of the driveway. Perhaps if I manage to get a garden fence done during the winter, we will tread with less trepidation come spring