As autumn approaches, the gardener knows to watch the weather forecast with heightened alert. Temperatures at night will begin to drop, and he knows that the first frost will mean the end of the growing season.
But weather can be unpredictable. Sometimes weathermen can’t foresee a dip in temperature, a premature frost. And every once in a while, a balmy summer night turns biting, long before its time. A frost comes early—too early—while the garden is yet into the throes of summer. And by morning, the frost has had its way.
A few of the hardiest cold-weather plants—kale, carrots, rutabaga—survive the freeze. The frost melts from their leaves at the first blush of morning sun, leaving their roots and greens unscathed. But the most lush and succulent garden-dwellers—the heavy producers of summer—are utterly destroyed. Overnight, they turn to algae.
The deep-green tomato plants, which only yesterday boasted bushels of fruit in varying shades of green, yellow, and red, now hang wet and deflated against their supports. Each tomato bears the translucent mark of frostbite, killing any hope of a crop salvaged to ripen on a windowsill or on a cellar shelf, wrapped snugly in brown paper.
The pumpkin patch, once a knee-deep forest of oversized leaves, has melted. Half-grown pumpkins sit prematurely exposed in the morning sun. The garden fence, once enshrouded by cucumber vines and weighted by cukes ready for harvest—and adorned by the tiny yellow blossoms of fruit to come—now stands exposed. The vines hang like wet yarn, their thread-like tendrils clinging to the fence against the weight of the ruined fruit. It is too late in the season to plant new tomatoes, new pumpkins, new cucumbers. From this one brief event, the season is over.
What could have been done? Had the gardener foreseen, perhaps some protection could have been offered the plants—an old bed sheet draped across the tomatoes, some black Visqueen laid over the fence of cukes. But who foresees a frost this early? Who predicts a freeze at the peak of the growing season? The early frost brings an end to burgeoning fruit and growth and life.
Katie was 19 when she died.