Early Fall, Upside Down

Early Fall, Upside Down

This post is contributed by Coastal Rivers Trustee Barnaby Porter from his archive. Read the previous post here.

I’m not sure what most characterizes early fall for me – the sudden abundance of tomatoes in our garden and the cadent singing of crickets or the sweet smell of tired vegetation as it lies down to die and go back to the earth. Perhaps it’s none of those things so much as the heavy, lazy feeling I have after the frenzy of summer and the strong desire to just take a good pause before the next season is upon us.

As my friend, Bob, said the other day, “You know, fall is my favorite time of year, but I like to have a little summer first.” He could have been talking about the weather, but I’m almost certain, in his case, it had more to do with his advancing age and the all-too-rapid change of seasons as he sees them. What he wanted at that moment was to sit down and catch his breath, to take stock of the changing situation and to get himself adjusted, so to speak.

With new developments brewing in the weather, we organic souls can feel it. Now is when we take over where the plants leave off, savoring the bounty of our gardens and beginning to think about firewood. Women friends mark this time by picking bouquets of sea lavender on their last picnics. It’s a sweet time. There are still some picnics left, and warm days, but a change is coming. From the Caribbean, we hear about churning tropical depressions. It’s the season.

A few years ago, there was a mild charge of anticipation in the night air as I lay in bed watching the whispering shapes of trees outside the open window. We had been to the Union Fair that day, and there were potatoes and onions spread out on our kitchen porch to dry. We had heard, too, that a hurricane had been named and was inclined in our direction. It had been a day full of early autumn signs, and as I contemplated the humid lushness of the night, I drifted off to sleep with horse-pulling and heaps of prize-winning squashes in my head.

Sometime later, at a very unreasonable hour, the phone rang. I somehow managed to answer it. An unknown voice introduced itself: “This is Sparky so-and-so. I’m a radio operator in San Francisco, California. I have a patch call for you from Palmer Station, Antarctica, a John Konicheck. Please use proper radio procedure,” (or something like that) “and say ‘over’ at the end of each transmission. . . . Are you ready?”

“What? . . . um . . . I guess so,” I said. “What the hell is going on? . . . Over?”

And thus began one of the oddest conversations of my life. Half asleep, with potatoes and onions piled on the porch, I found myself lying on my back in my bed in early autumn, Maine, babbling absolute nonsense to an old, insomniac friend (a biologist friend, wintering over in the Antarctic) who was bored. Dug-in as John was in the world’s most remote, frozen, lifeless place on the bottom of the planet, he just needed to talk.

I remember snippets about 100 something degrees below zero, raging katabatic winds and how he really missed fresh vegetables . . . this as I watched the leaves swishing outside the window. The difference between our separate circumstances in that moment was insane! While John, with awe in his voice, described the crackling of atmospheric ice crystals, I heard a lone sheep baa in the night out the window. I kind of wanted to be there – to see it, feel it, hear it, all those things he was describing – but then it was pretty comfortable right where I was, and besides, I wasn’t dressed for it.

So, we carried on for a while. I was having trouble thinking of important news on my end. John was too, except that he had just been accepted into the Three Hundred Club by dashing out of a 200° sauna and jumping through a hole in the ice when it was 100º below out. With that, we decided to sign off.

“We’ve still got a little while before it gets like that here, John. You stay in touch. I’m hanging up now. So long. . . . . . . Over and out.”

“Konicheck. Palmer station. Out.”

And there I was, and there he was.

Barnaby's friend John Konicheck


Barnaby PorterArtist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. Barnaby currently serves on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees. For more about Barnaby, click here.